A tragic event most commonly leaves us adults feeling confused, sad, angry and fearful. And if we cannot make sense of a tragedy or if our fears have been triggered, then imagine how children feel. If adults feel fearful after tragedy or its the aftermath, then how do we keep our children feeling safe?
With my background in the expressive arts and folklore, I've worked with traumatized children in a variety of settings. After receiving questions from a few parents and clients this past week, I decided to compile a quick list of the creative activities that I most commonly utilize. These activities have two main objectives:
1.) To make sure the child feels safe enough to open up and talk about anything with a parent or an adult
2.) To make sure the child knows that the parent or the adult will do everything possible to keep him or her safe in this world
While we may not always have the power to control what happens in the world around us, we do have the power to give children constructive tools to help them deal with the problems within the world as well as to show children that the world is still BRIGHT HAPPY and MAGICAL.
Before I list my activities, I would like to mention the importance of not creating a fearful environment for children. Children are extremely sensitive to the news and to adult reactions. If adults are walking around saying "How could this happen?" or "What an absolute tragedy" or if adults are fixating on the television, then this is creating a fearful environment for children. Try limiting your own news intake and read this post about creating a positive environment. It's good to let children know that feeling scared or sad is perfectly acceptable as long as we offer some tools to cope with the feelings. Just make sure that our own fears are not creating a fearful environment and make sure that the environment is appropriate for a child's developmental stage.
Here is a list of creative activities to help children work through a tragedy:
1.) Creative Writing and Storytelling. Telling and writing stories are not only excellent outlets for emotion, but they also help children process a tragedy, even when their creative story may not seem like it's related to the event. For example, I often hear tales of superheros and children born with special powers after a tragedy occurs. Even if the characters aren't engaging with the tragedy itself, it is soothing for children to believe in the safety these legendary people offer the world and it is empowering for children to believe that they have special abilities in a world where they may feel powerless.
Let children create their own stories regardless of the themes that may arise--they are inserting their concerns and feelings into the story. If themes of violence or tragedy do occur, then play a mutual storytelling game where the child tells the story first, then you either tell, reenact or use puppets to retell a modified version of the story. Throw in fun and magical twists as well as positive tools or messages to address any issues that appeared in the first tale. (Keep messages simple, "I love you," "I will do everything to keep you safe," "There is so much good in this world," etc.)
2.) Art. A variety of art materials should always be available to children. Sometimes children don't want to talk about what they have seen or heard about a tragedy. Chalk, crayons, markers, colored pencils, paints, finger paints and clay are all excellent tools to help your child express their conscious and unconscious thoughts. When your child is finished, ask questions about their artwork and really listen to their answers as well as acknowledge their feelings. Try not to push them into talking, just ask a few questions and let them lead the conversation.
3.) Creative Play. Children often process the world around them by engaging in play. Encourage children to use their imaginations to explore situations and outcomes. Try not to correct them if violence or scary themes arise, just gently redirect them to more positive ideas and solutions for resolving their anger. (Remember, we want to encourage children to open up and talk, so if we scold them for violent thoughts, they are likely to keep their ideas to themselves.)
A sensory table can also be therapeutic for a child. Fill a container with brightly colored sand or Kool-aid dyed pasta shapes and allow your child to use his or her toys (miniature humans, animals, houses, trees) for creative play. Pay attention because the child most commonly will use the toys to represent their needs.
And finally, interacting with puppets or offering some stuffed animals for comfort and anger release are also great tools to inspire creative play. Here is a quick tutorial on how to make your own puppets:
4.) Go to an uplifting movie or to a storytelling event. After a tragedy (especially a tragedy that directly impacts a child), it may be difficult for children to believe that the world is a bright and happy place and that there is an infinite amount of positive experiences just waiting for them. Experiencing uplifting, inspiring or even just silly stories often shifts this negative outlook. I specifically write and perform my stories to not only make children smile and feel magical, but my stories also keep them feeling empowered, inspired and hopeful. Engaging in positive stories can be key to helping children cope with tragedy.
5.) Focus on the good. Take a trip around town looking for all of the hardworking and caring people in this world. You can even design a scavenger hunt for younger children and include things like a police car, a police person, a fire truck, a fire person, a paramedic, an ambulance, healthcare workers, a teacher, a trained guide dog, a school, etc. By showing a child that there are lots and lots of positive people who care for this world, you are offering him or her hope and reassurance.
I do hope that this post offers you some ideas to help create a brighter and happier world for the children around you. Please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like me to address a specific issue in a blog post.
On April 27th, with the purchase of regular museum admission, community members will have the opportunity to learn how to preserve family photos and stories by attending "Tell Your Story Day" at the Washington County Museum from 10am to 3pm. The day includes learning how to collect oral histories, scanning family photos into the museums' digital archive, tips on curating family heirlooms and objects, and a workshop on incorporating more storytelling into our daily lives.
At 10:30am, Beth Dehn, museum folklife and education director will talk about the museum's oral history collection and will share information on how to collect and preserve family oral histories.
At 11:30am, the Hillsboro Community Youth Choir will give a special performance of historical songs and readings.
From 11am to 2pm, Lindsay Zaborowski, museum archivist will help visitors scan up to five family photos so the museum can add them to the Washington County Heritage Online digital photo archive for future generations to enjoy. She can also give advice on how to store family photographs.
At 12:15pm, Karen Lange, museum deputy director will share a short talk on curating family stories with family heirlooms and objects.
From 1pm to 2pm, local storyteller Emmy Blue will present a workshop on the art of storytelling. Participants will explore the important role storytelling has within communities and families. The workshop also includes an interactive information session, a tale or two from Blue's Appalachian heritage and fun exercises to help incorporate more storytelling into our daily lives. This portion of the day is appropriate for people 15-years-of-age and older.
"Tell Your Story Day" is being held at the Washington County Museum's Exhibitions and Educational Programs space located in the Hillsboro Civic Center Plaza Building, 120 E Main St. in downtown Hillsboro next to Starbucks. Admission is free for members; non-member admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors, students, children 18-and-under and active military. Children age 3 and under are free.
Visit www.washingtoncountymuseum.org or call 503.645.5353 for more information.
Join Emmy Blue at West Slope Community Library on November 7th at 6:30 pm for an evening of enchanted tales! This lively storytelling program, geared towards children ages 6+ and adults, includes a seasonal selection of Emmy Blue’s original fall folktales and legends about the magical creatures who live deep in the enchanted forests of the Pacific Northwest. Emmy Blue’s uplifting program will surely fill you with gratitude and love as the holiday season approaches!
P.S. Don't forget to head over to Facebook and post photos of your favorite enchanted location for your chance to win an enchanted Emmy Blue prize pack!! (Feel free to post publicly or privately, however you feel most comfortable!)
Stories, stories, stories. I read stories. I write stories. I speak stories. I can even act out stories and illustrate stories! So why was I feeling bored and blocked over a simple story that I was editing this weekend?
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and heard, Try communicating the story without reaching for the tools that you utilize every single day-- Paintthe story.
Now, my husband is an artist who has an entire closet filled with magical treasures just for painting! Having never before painted anything in my life, I enthusiastically grabbed every essential painting supply (anything bright, colorful and glittery, any shiny gadget or silly looking brush, as well as anything with a pleasant scent is my definition of 'essential').
Then I began to paint my story.
The creative process was simple because I have no artistic training. I don't know a thing about painting, so I did what I felt.I did not think about the end result.
The story on the canvas continued to change for an hour until a mermaid appeared. It was this magical mermaid who led me out of the boring black abyss that had me feeling trapped and guided me towards the bright world where creativity flows easy and free.
Meet my magical (semi-finished) mermaid:
(Official title: Telling my tale with paint, not words)
Although she may not end up in a gallery, painting this mermaid opened me up to a world of creative possibilities! (So my magical mission was accomplished!) Even if you aren't feeling blocked at the moment, give the exercise a try.
Don't be afraid to embrace a different creative medium in order to get your ideas and inspiration flowing again! Just keep creating and stay magical no matter what happens! Xx
Wishes are magical desires for dreams and hopes to come true. Although wishing traditions vary around the world, all cultures have beliefs and stories surrounding wishes. (In fact, I am headed off to tell a few of my favourite tales about wishes tomorrow morning.)
Do you wish on falling stars? Eat moon cakes under the moon? Throw lucky pennies into a wishing well? Search the forests for Leprechauns or the Kapre?
One wishing tradition that I love to practice is a variation of the wishing tree. Around the enchanted tree house, Wednesdays are referred to as Wishing Wednesdays. On every single Wishing Wednesday, we write down one wish and tie it around the branch of our wishing tree.
This wishing tradition started when I lived in Florida. I would hang my wishes in a banyan tree because in Hindu mythology, the banyan tree is referred to as kalpavriksha meaning "wish-fulfilling tree." Since all trees (or even houseplants) are filled with magical enchantments, they love to be used as wishing trees! Add some magic into your life by incorporating Wishing Wednesdays into your week!
Here is what you need:Scrap paper, scrap ribbon or string and a pen
Step One: Write your wish!
Step Two: Roll your wish!
Step Three: MAKE YOUR WISH!!
If you knew your wish would come true, what would you wish for? Dream big because on Wishing Wednesday, wishes come true! Xx