The Knot in Your Throat: Love, Death & Resurrection

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Some of us are blessed with angel guides here on earth. I met mine, Thalia Georgiou, 22 years ago. At the tender and ancient age of 15, Thalia peered over a precipice and saw her possible demise.  A tumor snaked around Thalia’s carotid artery, threatening to cut off the blood supply to her brain or empty her life’s blood should a surgeon’s hand err.  After receiving a death sentence in her home country of Greece, she arrived in New York City to prove her doctors wrong. She came for chemo to shrink the tumor, surgery to remove it, and radiation to prevent its return. She came to survive the odds.

Flashback — 1998 —

I get to know Thalia’s mother before I make inroads with the teen. Her mother attends a parent respite group that I co-lead with a social worker. Thalia prefers the jewelry making classes in the adult recreation program to the children’s recreation area where I work. But one day, she rolls her IV pole into the sun-drenched playroom and asks me for some time — in private.

As I close the door to my tiny office, Thalia reaches into her knapsack and hands me a clear, plastic bag.  “Open it,” she encourages me. I obey her and find a long braid of hair encased within. “Touch it. Smell it. Feel it,” she says.  “Look at how it’s red on the top and brown underneath. I dyed it once. See all the beautiful split ends. When I had hair, I hated split ends. But they are so beautiful now. Sometimes I tell my mom, ‘Get my hair. I want to sleep with it.’ And I curl up with my hair on my pillow.” As I follow her instructions and bring the braid to my cheek, she watches me expectantly, a faux panther tattoo adorning one side of her naked scalp.

Thalia puts the hair carefully away. In its place, she brings out several photo album pages. Holding them on her lap, she slides her chair close to me and points. “This is my neighborhood taken from my best friend’s house. You can see my house from here. This is the roof. See the little park at the end of the street, and the trees? It’s such a pretty street.” She shows me photos of boys, describing them as both friends and boyfriends. Thalia confides in me that one of them looks like a boy here at the hospital. “You know I was thinking. I’m away from home and very sick. He’s here, very sick. Why not?”

There are pictures of her best friend, a lovely girl who “took some of my boyfriends, but that’s okay.” In one shot, she and Thalia are at the airport on the day that she left for New York City.  The friend is clearly distraught and tearful. I say, “I can almost imagine what it must be like seeing you off, not knowing if and when she’ll ever see you agin., feeling helpless to do anything for you.”

“Yeah, and how do you think I feel?!” she retorts. “A million miles away from home, alone, facing death.”

A small gash appears in my heart.  “Are you facing death?” I ask.

“Well, when I came here they said that without treatment, I’d be dead in four months. Then they said that with treatment … well, they said that even if my tumor responds to treatment that I only have 30% chance anyway.”

“Do your friends know this?”  I am wondering how she is coping, who she is leaning on.

“Well, I told them all that I was dying right away.” Thalia smiles gleefully. “And you should have seen all the attention I got!”

I note that amongst all of the pictures, I see none of her father. She explains that she has drawings of him. She hands me a sketch pad. “I’ll show you my dirty picture first.” She turns the pages to a pastel drawing of a graceful, naked woman. A pencil drawing of a woman in lingerie, a handcuff dangling from her finger. And two drawings of her father,  profiles of him relaxing with music, with one shoe off,  and another at the beach. sporting long, curly hair and a hairy pot-belly.

 

There is a self-portrait entitled Mirror Image, August 1997. A slightly wary version of Thalia in pencil, braid intact, tilts her head to the left,  her eyes trained to the right at her own image in the mirror. I don’t notice any trace of the long scar from her initial surgery that presently runs along the left side of her neck, and so I ask, “Were you ill yet when you drew this?”

It’s as if she knows what I am asking. “My head was turned — see — no scar.”

We pour over many more drawings, each with a story to tell. The museum walk continues when Thalia holds out a large, heavy ring. It is silver with a jade stone. “This was given to me by a friend of my mother’s a long time ago. When I think of this ring, I think about my whole life, the mistakes I’ve made, the things I’ve learned from them. You know, when I came to the hospital, I really changed. I am not the same person I was before. And three days after I got here, the ring broke. It was so strong that a train could run over it. But look, I can’t wear it anymore.”

The last thing she digs out of her bag is a handful of three Greek audio cassettes. I ask her if she wants me to borrow them and listen to them at home. “Not exactly,” she answers and pulls a cassette player out with a flourish. She cues up a song for me and plugs me in. She translates for me as the music sears my eardrums.

“It’s like this. When there is a knot in your throat, and the ceiling is spinning, you feel your tummy is going to be ripped open. This is love, and it is death and resurrection combined, and it goes on and on and on.”

That hour spent with Thalia so many years ago serves as a permanent beacon in my work and life. Her humor, honesty, wisdom, and bravery continue to inspire me. She reached out to me on FaceBook when she turned thirty, and we remembered and laughed together, musing about the horror of that year, and the hope.  She returned to Greece after treatment and now makes a living designing and creating jewelry, clothes and wedding dresses.  She developed the building blocks of these skills while in the hospital. She was the kid who used her radiation face mask as a display model for homemade earrings and necklaces. She could turn torture into beauty – and she still does.

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Thalia was married this past week to her soulmate at a castle in Italy. Here she is in the wedding dress that she created, in the life that she resurrected.

 

 

 

 

 

You can visit her Etsy shop and purchase her amazingly original designs at https://www.etsy.com/shop/THAGartDESIGN/items and follow her on FaceBook at https://m.facebook.com/ThagArtDesign/ and https://m.facebook.com/bloomingmusejewellery and her Instagram accounts are Thag.Art.Design and blooming_muse_jewellery. She models all of her works of art. Note the ring in the lower right-hand photo………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kenya Child Life Program Spotlight Continues: Liz Kabuthi

 

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Liz Kabuthi prepares children for surgery using a book of photos

Last week, I spotlighted the work of Child Life Specialist Jayne Kamau at the Sallie Test Pediatric Centre at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kenya. This sustainable Child Life program is one of a kind in East Africa. The Child Life staff and founder Morgan Livingstone are especially proud  this year to be working with Courtney Moreland of  Child Life United to offer child life practicums in Kenya.

This week, we hear from Liz Kabuthi, who I had the pleasure of meeting when she represented her country as a delegate at the Child Life Council International Summit on Pediatric Psychosocial Care in 2014. Her reflections on her child life journey and work are deeply moving, and give us a glimpse at how this profession influences and betters our lives even outside of the actual hospital work. Continue reading

Sustainable Child Life Services in Kenya

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The Sally Test Pediatric Centre in Kenya is proud to have the first sustainable child life program in East Africa. By sustainable, I mean that rather than mission-based services that come and go, it is staffed by citizens of Kenya who have obtained child life certification through the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP). Morgan Livingstone of Toronto, Canada, saw the need of such services and has worked tirelessly over the years to train and support the staff at Sally Test.

Over the next several blogs I am spotlighting the work of the child life specialists in Kenya. The team has faced many challenges in becoming child life specialists, and they are doing extraordinary work to humanize medical treatment for children and families in their care. A special thank you to Morgan Livingstone and the Sally Test Child Life team for taking the time to answer my interview questions and send along great photos.

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Jayne Kamau

 WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BE A CHILD LIFE SPECIALIST?

I had worked in pediatrics unit as a social worker and was so comfortable and passionate with the children and their families. I had not heard about the Child Life profession until when Morgan Livingstone (CCLS Canada) came to Kenya for a one day workshop and introduced the concept of Child Life. An interest was triggered there and then and my mind and heart were in agreement that this profession though new to me was what I wanted to do. I started doing my own research about the profession and what qualification was needed to become a certified child life specialist.  So when the program was set up in our hospital and people were called for interview, I was among the very first to apply and now here I am. Continue reading

Making Hospitals More Hospitable with The Tongue Depressor Challenge

 

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My colleague, child life specialist Jon Luongo, is one of the most playful professionals that I have the pleasure of knowing. He taught me all about the “tongue depressor challenge”, which is described in detail in our co-authored chapter in the Handbook of Medical Play Therapy and Child Life.  Below is a brief introduction to the activity by Jon:

I encourage the doctors to tap into their imaginative playfulness to complete what I call the ‘tongue depressor challenge.’ The task is to co-construct a teaching tool alongside a patient to explain a part of the body, a particular medical condition, or piece of medical hardware. The challenge for doctor and patient is to use at least one tongue depressor in their design; like a single LEGO brick in a set of construction toys, the tongue depressor represents a humble piece of medical paraphernalia with limitless creative building potential.

 

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As with many great ideas, I borrowed Jon’s and tweaked it a bit. This past July, I brought the activity with me to the Klicek Foundation Summer Camp in Malejovice, Czech Republic. Camp directors Jiri and Marketa Královcovi graciously allowed me to lead the campers in a slight variation on Jon’s theme. Continue reading

Kiddos

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A headline caught my eye this morning:

Miss USA 2018 Sarah Rose Summers on Her New Job, #ConfidentlyBeautiful, and Working with ‘Kiddos’

I searched the article to see if she was quoted as using the word, “kiddo”, and couldn’t find any reference to it in her eloquent and passionate description of her work as a child life specialist. So I am going to put the use of the word down to creative journalism.

But I do read and hear that word often in the vocabulary of child life specialists far and wide, in person and in writing — and it has never fallen easily on my ears. I wonder sometimes if I am being nitpicky. But I looked it up on the internet and my intuition was backed up, first by the definition I found, and secondly by several conversations in the media by everyone from teachers to business women and journalists.

Here are two definitions I found:

Google Dictionary says that it is “used as a friendly or slightly condescending form of address.”

Webster’s New World College Dictionary describes it as a term of affectionate address sometimes mildly patronizing

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THAT is the nuance that has always been pricking the back of my brain. It is the fact that there is such a thin line between an affectionate colloquial term and one that imparts a power deferential, demeaning the individual to whom we are referring.

In an article entitled “The word every boss should ban“, Leigh Gallagher says, “But kiddo can also be patronizing and condescending, and while the person using the term may think of it as an expression of benign affection, it doesn’t always come across that way. For a young woman who is trying her best to be taken seriously, ‘kiddo’ can very quickly wipe all that away.”

In a conversation between teachers, the opinions are all over the map, but the underlying message for us is one of being conscious of the language we use, and how it informs our professional relationships with children.

When I think of children in hospitals, I think about how disempowered they are by virtue of being a patient in a medical institution. It seems that anything we can do, including refraining from using unintentionally demeaning language, can usher in more humanity to an inherently dehumanizing environment. Calling children and parents by their given names, even asking how they prefer to be addressed, taking the time to note names and refer back to them, seems like the least we can do to show children and families that we see them for the unique individuals they are – beyond the confines of the hospital.

 

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Child Life Cooperative: Learning One Child At a Time

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This week we welcome Allie Jones, the founder of the Child Life Cooperative- a website and podcast with the mission to advance the child life profession by learning through reflection, uniting for support and equipping students. Follow on Instagram or email at allie@childlifecooperative.com. I invited her to share a story about her work with you all.  Take it away, Allie

 

Deb may not remember this, but when I began my very first child life job I desperately reached out to her for help. The job I had been dreaming about turned out to be a job that I dreaded going to each day. I am pretty convinced that I developed a reputation on the commuter train as being “the girl that was always crying” before and after work in the city. 

Within a short week of starting a one-person child life program, I quickly got the sense that child life was an unwanted and misunderstood service. The rehabilitation hospital wanted a person who would organize fun activities for the therapists to do with the patients during therapy. Staffs’ expectation was that this person would then stand off to the side—no talking, no co-treating. In their minds, child life was a party planner and recreational therapist. And if I tried to advocate and educate staff of more appropriate ways to utilize child life, then I would be at risk of being fired. On my first day as I shared ideas of how to develop the child life program, a behavioral therapist looked at me square in the eyes and said, “just do what they tell you to do. Tread lightly, Allie, or else…”

I felt intimidated. I felt overwhelmed. I felt defeated. And, I felt utterly alone.

I decided to email Deb Vilas, someone who I had never met, but whose name continued to pop up in child life forums and articles. I wanted to see if she had any advice on how to proceed in such a discouraging job.

Deb encouraged me, providing alternative approaches I could try. She reminded me to gently educate and model for staff what child life truly was. She pointed me towards focusing on connecting with the patients personally and spurred me towards pressing onward with confidence and conviction.

Which I did. And to be honest, every day was a battle.

Not only were the expectations of party planning incredibly taxing and difficult to carry out as a one-person program, my patient population also proved to be a challenge. Many of my patients were from the inner city and had come to the rehabilitation hospital due to injuries related to gang violence.

One patient, we will call him “Devon”, is a young man I will never forget.

I met Devon one afternoon during rounds. He had just been admitted and I could hear him shouting and swearing down the hall.

I heard staff whisper, “he is 16 and was shot 6 times trying to steal a car. This will be fun, won’t it?”

I knocked. “Devon? I am Allie, my job is to—“

“Hey, you know what? I don’t care. Go f*** yourself.”

“Alrighty, then. Good talk. Until tomorrow, Devon.”

I didn’t feel it was the time to keep pressing at that moment with Devon. Instead, I tried to break down his walls by showing up at his room every. single. day. The kid was going to be here until further notice, so I figured I had some time to connect with him.

And so. Every. Single. Day. I kept at it.

Day 2.

“Hey, Devon. Allie, here.”

“Get out. Go f*** yourself.”

Day 3.

“Devon, I just got this new video game and—“

“Would you shut up? Leave!”

Fast forward to approximately 15 days later.

“Hey, Devon.”

“Allie, right? Word is you have some McDonald’s gift cards you give out to kids and can take them across the street after therapy is over.”

That was true. I actually received training in order to be able to take kids on outings.

Yet, hearing him actually initiate made me speechless at first.

“I like hot fudge sundaes,” Devon continued.

Finally, I responded, “I do, too. Let’s go get you one.”

From that day forward I sat in disbelief as I saw D’s walls slowly start to come down.We began a weekly ritual of going across the street to McDonald’s. And boy, it must have been a sight to watch us even try to get there! Devon was paralyzed from the neck down and was cruising in an extremely heavy and finicky power wheelchair. I was the lanky young-looking girl who would try to push said power wheelchair when it would malfunction!

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But we would make it. And we would sit and actually talk. Devon began to open up to me about the life he lived from foster home to foster home. He shared with me the loneliness and abandonment he faced that pushed him to join a gang, his only sense of “family” and “belonging”.

Devon came to our hospital as a raging, angry, bitter and violent teenager. Yet he transformed into a gentle, kind and respectful young man. He even befriended another patient, a young 5-year-old girl who had a diagnosis of selective mutism. Yet Devon swore that she would talk to him. Sometimes when Devon was upset, he would have the nurse cover his face with his blanket so he could shut out the world. And then, this little 5-year-old friend would wheel up to him, rip off his blanket and smile at him. They would talk for hours. A true picture of “the lion” and “the lamb”.

Though the child life job description never seemed to get better at that hospital and the staff continued to be resistant, no matter what, meeting Devon and the relationship that budded made all the tearful train rides worth it. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Choosing to zero in on each individual patient ended up giving my work so much meaning and fulfillment, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time and even if I was still expected to solely plan parties. Because those patients didn’t just need a Halloween party or a fun game to play during therapy, they needed a child life specialist.

So for all of you who may be in a job that you hate, or be longing for a different opportunity, take a minute to look around and try to find your “Devon”. It will be worth it.

Continue reading

Equity During Transitions

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At the 2018 commencement ceremony of the BankStreet College of Education this past week, graduates weren’t the only ones juggling feelings of excitement, nostalgia, and anticipation. Cheering on our Child Life Program students brought forth memories of some watershed moments in my own career. When a colleague reached out to the Child Life Forum today asking for child lifers to share thoughts about advocacy and empowerment in times of transition, I began to think more deeply about who and what supported me as I pursued my passion to work with children in hospitals.
As a career changer, I  worked as a coordinator in the volunteer department (a paid position) at a large cancer hospital for over seven years. I discovered the field of child life while attending a professional development workshop at my workplace. A participant introduced herself as a child life specialist, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the lightbulb that went off in my head lit up the whole room. I had found my calling.   She recommended the BankStreet College, and I enrolled soon thereafter,  minoring in child life within a masters in early childhood special education. The hospital paid for my degree, and it took me almost 4 years to complete as I worked full-time.
When I finally graduated, I very much wished to work in the same hospital on the pediatric ward where I had placed, trained, and supported over 125 volunteers. My colleague, the director of pediatric recreation, (child life wasn’t yet in existence there) told me that although she would enjoy working with me, she felt that if I didn’t leave the hospital and spread my wings that I would regret it. I listened to her and left for a large city hospital, working in the emergency department, pediatric wait and play room, and the child abuse clinic, where I learned more than I ever could have imagined. It was a very important time of growth for me and my colleague had been so right.
Another moment of transition came when I took on some of my first private clients. Two professors from my studies at Bankstreet referred me to work with children in their homes, to help them cope with medical procedures and the loss of a family member. My mentors provided supervision for me as I tackled this new and exciting challenge. They showed faith in me where I had little in myself, and they made it possible for me to take this next step. I am forever in their debt and I do my best to pay it forward in my work now as a professor in child life. My mentors’ investment scaffolded me to accomplish far more than I ever could have managed alone. It makes me think of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, and how children can accomplish more within a trusting and supportive relationship with an adult than they can on their own. But what does that mean for people who may not have access to these kinds of helpers?
With each step I have taken in my career, someone has always stepped forward to show me the way, cheering me on and acknowledging my abilities and place in the world. Some mentors have been teachers, some colleagues or friends. But that feeling of having someone opening a door for me and having my back as I walked through it, is something I have perhaps taken for granted. I may have always been grateful, but it never occurred to me that all this support could be the result of White Privilege. In her Integrated Masters Project study of Diversity and Social Capital in the Field of Child Life, BankStreet graduate Madalyn Marshall examines the obstacles for people of color entering the field of Child Life. Her research shows how social capital paves the way for White women in our profession. Given the fact that Child Life is dominated by White women, it behooves us to consider ways in which we can take action to change the face of our profession to include more people of color, to better meet the needs of the diverse populations we serve.
In the words of one of this year’s student speakers at commencement, Elise Hebel, “BankStreet’s mission and creed call on students, graduates, and teachers to enter with all five senses alert, to never stop learning, to be flexible, creative, gentle, and just, and to advocate for the rights and dignity of all.” She further entreats us to “nurture tolerance, understanding, and appreciation for the many differences and similarities that unite us, not only standing on the shoulders of giants, but stepping into the role of giant and empowering the vision and actions of others.”
Are we ready to take this first giant step? Recognizing our own positions of privilege is a start.
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Wonder

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“Doctors have come from distant cities just to see me. Stand over my bed disbelieving what they’re seeing. They say I must be one of the wonders of God’s own creation. And as far as they see they can offer no explanation… Oh I believe Fate smiled at Destiny. Laughed as she came to my cradle. Know this child will be able. Laughed as my body she lifted. Know this child will be gifted. With love, with patience and with faith she’ll make her way.”

–Natalie Merchant

I am not sure of when it was that I first heard Natalie Merchant’s song “Wonder”, but each time I do hear it, it resonates deeply with me and I feel incredibly witnessed and uplifted.

In the early morning hours of my birth, the doctor gravely informed my parents that he had little hope for my survival. He actually discouraged my mother from naming me, in a misguided effort to help her accept the inevitable. I was born with a rare genetic skin disorder, Congenital Ichthyosiform Erythroderma (CIE). I made my first appearance on earth encased in a collodian membrane  – a tight outer layer resembling plastic wrap, looking as my father loves to say, like a “shiny red sausage”. The doctors didn’t know what to make of me. They had no name for my symptoms, no explanation for my appearance. But their worry about my skin’s ability to provide a sufficiently protective barrier led them to believe that I would not survive.

 

I spent one month alone in the hospital, as doctors searched high and low for a diagnosis. Parental visits were discouraged. They finally suggested that my parents seek an answer at a larger children’s hospital. My parents held me for the very first time in the back seat of the car, as their friends drove them the hour and a half to New York City. Another month passed before I was discharged, still without a diagnosis. The hospital cautioned my parents that the road ahead would be a rough one, and they highly recommended that my family employ a full-time nurse to see to my complicated needs. My mother balked at this. “I’m her mother,” she said. “I am the only nurse she needs.”

 

My diagnosis came soon after, when Dr. Charles Sheard, a dermatologist in Stamford, CT, observed that I appeared to have the same symptoms as one other patient he had read about in some obscure medical journal. Dr. Sheard took me on as a regular patient, seeing me once a week for the first year of my life, then monthly, and as I continued to grow and develop, annually throughout my teen years. He never charged my parents a dime. Although I suffered some complications and hospitalizations during childhood, my health stabilized and I have grown to live a full and rich life with few limitations. When dermatologists examine me, they remark at the seemingly mild case of ichthyosis I have, compared to other patients whose condition hugely impacted their development, mobility, and appearance.

 

I did, however, struggle with post-hospital trauma in the form of sleep disturbances, sensory issues, and severe separation anxiety. Then came the bullying in school. But I had several resilience factors at play in my life. I grew up listening to my parents tell me stories of my early health challenges, referring to me as a survivor and a fighter. My mother too was a fighter and fierce advocate for my medical and emotional needs throughout my growing years.  It should come as no surprise that I became a child life specialist as an adult, advocating for the emotional and developmental needs of children facing illness in hospitals and their communities.  Natalie Merchant’s song “Wonder” reminds me of the miracle of my birth and life, how I surprised the naysayers, and how my mother saw the possibilities and joy in my birth and life more than the dire prognosis.
To learn more about the many forms of icthyosis, check out the Foundation for Icthyosis and Related Skin Types.

Free Talk: Medical Play Therapy & Child Life

Bank Street College Library

Presents…

Library Salon #15

Friday, March 9, 2018

5:30 to 7:30 pm

A panel discussion with child life practitioners
and alumni contributors to:

Moderated by: Troy Pinkney-Ragsdale, MA, CCLS, has over 25 years of experience in the field of Child Life, including directing several child life programs in the tri-state area. She has served as the director of the Child Life Masters Program at Bank Street College since 2004. She has been a member of the Association of Child Life Professionals, served as the Co-chair of Graduate Accreditation Task Force and member(2012-2014),  served as Director on the Board (2015-2017) and has been a member of the Education and Training Committee for many years.

Panelists:

Lawrence C. Rubin, PhD, the editor of the Handbook of Medical Play Therapy and Child Life, is a professor of counselor education at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida, and an online lecturer at the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Rubin is a practicing psychologist in Fort Lauderdale, where he specializes with children, teens, and their families.
Jon Luongo, MS, CCLS, is a Bank Street graduate, past adjunct instructor, a delegate with 1199 Healthcare Workers’ Union, and a child life specialist at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. He began his career in healthcare as a performer in the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit in 1997.
Suzanna Paisley, MS, CCLS, is a Bank Street graduate, a parent of two young children, and a child life specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. She has lectured on trauma processing with children of all ages at national child life conferences.
Deborah Vilas, MS, CCLS, LMSW, is a Bank Street graduate, a current faculty member, a writer and a public speaker. She has taught play techniques to child life students, hospital play specialists, nursing students, social workers and psychologists in 6 countries around the world.

Patty Weiner, MS, is a mother and grandmother whose career spans over 35 years as a child life specialist and educator. She is the founding director of Bank Street’s Child Life Program and is an educational consultant for The Making Headway Foundation in NYC.

Library Salons are a series of informal lectures, panels, and group discussions
held after hours on Friday evenings.Refreshments Provided#BankStreetLibrarySalon

Copyright © 2018 Bank Street College of Education, All rights reserved.

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Click Here and Scroll down to Register and for access to live stream link

Frightened Teens: Supporting Your Adolescent in Scary Times

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Another Shooting.

It takes all of our strength as grown-ups to not give in to despair, anxiety, and fear in the face of yet another young person accessing an assault rifle and murdering his peers. School is supposed to be a safe place for all children — teens included.

As the political debates about gun control make our brains feel like exploding, we have to remember to reach out to the adolescents in our care. If it is that tough for us to wrap our heads around, how much harder is it for teens? We must be proactive in engaging teens in conversation every day, about life, about what is important to them, and about the awful things that happen in the world. When something truly terrible happens, it is even more important to take the time to listen, witness, and validate their struggles. And this often means admitting that we don’t have the answers.

Teens have the capacity to reason, to wrestle with abstract concepts, and to articulate their feelings. But their brains are still developing, as is their self-concept, their ideas about who they are in the world. A random act of extreme violence will shake their new identities and burgeoning belief systems to the core, and they need calm, kind adults to prop them up as they try to make sense of their new reality. They need to know what to expect as much as possible, who they can count on. We know it isn’t always easy, so here are a few tips from the experts.

Tips For talking with Teens

What Mental Health Experts say to Their Kids

Fear and trauma responses can sometimes look like anger and disconnect. The teen who is suffering the most, without the ability to articulate and share their feelings, may be the one who needs your best efforts. Often teens find it easier to talk about tough topics when they are involved in an activity. Consider a cooking project, or gathering some art supplies, maybe magazines for collage. Or how about the ingredients to make a mini volcano? As you create something together, you can talk about how the shooter was a volcano waiting to blow, and how many feelings are often seething underneath. The teen can write down questions they have about life or list things that make them feel like blowing their top, and these items can be folded and put into the volcano before you set off the eruption together.

Volcano!

Introduction

This technique helps release anger through a structured activity providing an opportunity to discuss anger and to problem solve. It works well individually and in groups with preschoolers to teens.

Materials

  • Small paper cup or medicine cup (Dixie brand bathroom cups work great)
  • Plastic cereal bowl
  • One container of Play-Dough (The kind that comes in a 4-pack) or homemade.
  • White vinegar
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Baking soda
  • Red and yellow food coloring
  • Teaspoon

Activity

  • Place a small paper cup upright on top of an upside-down plastic bowl. Secure it with a few pieces of tape.  Wrap it in play dough to make a volcano, leaving the mouth of the cup open.  Pour ¼ cup white vinegar, two squirts of dishwashing liquid, and several drops of food coloring into the “mouth” of the volcano.
  • If the child wishes, they can write down or dictate things that upset them (make them scared or angry or mad) on tiny pieces of paper and place them in the volcano.
  • Spoon in a heaping teaspoon of baking soda and watch the eruption!
  • For instant replays, alternate adding a little more baking soda and vinegar. A group can make a larger volcano using a large salad bowl and more playdough. Miniature people, animals, and props can be added to add aspects of dramatic play.