Posted on

Let’s Be Friends-Young, Old, and In Between

grandpa teaching toddler grandson to fish

Intergenerational Relationships Rock

Research shows the importance of seniors in the lives of children, and though we think first of grandparents, elders need not be biological relatives to forge deep and lasting relationships. What counts is the connection between adult and child, a deeply felt knowledge that theirs is a special bond built on mutual acceptance and constancy. Children thrive with such unconditional love. Even the most devoted parents cannot provide what elders do.

As a child I was blessed by the presence of elders in my life, some relatives, others not, who happily gave me the gift of their time and undivided attention. Time had a different quality. We were unhurried, at ease, comfortable. We shared stories, sometimes while simply sitting together. Other times while doing chores or engaged in a mutually satisfying activity.

Pots of Gold, Spring Water, and Blackberry Brambles

I learned about leprechauns and shamrocks as Mrs. Higgins told stories of her native Ireland. Cousin Mary took me for rides in her Model A Ford and invited me to sleepover in her cabin in the woods where water came from a natural spring and had to be hauled to the house.

My maternal grandmother took me berry picking, cautioned me to pay attention to the  brambles, and as we cut through the cow pasture, to keep a sharp eye out for cow patties. Later I made a blackberry roll under her gentle guidance and learned that some people know how to cook without recipes. On wood burning stoves.

All strong and nurturing, these women made a positive impression on me. They were accepting and encouraging, generous of spirit. They enjoyed our time together as much as I did. Ours was a mutual admiration society.

Having positive relationships across generations helps everyone. Younger ones learn when and how to lend a hand, and elders, accustomed to their independence, learn to appreciate and accept thoughtful gestures of assistance.

Becoming An Elder

Now I am the elder and recognize, in a way I did not as a parent, that children are drawn to adults who slow their pace and savor the present. Parents have so many responsibilities that calming their minds and being in the moment often eludes them. Having “been there and done that,” we know the feeling. Current parents benefit from non-judgmental relationships with veteran parents. Hearing messages of encouragement and appreciation make a positive difference. And when do-able, offering harried parents a couple of hours of respite is a triple hitter that strengthens bonds all around.

Sharing Our Best Selves

To create mutually respectful intergenerational bonds, we must pay attention. Listen attentively. Show compassion. Respond gently. If we want those we cherish to be open and honest, we must be willing to acknowledge what we’re being told without judging. Being critical is the least effective way of communicating. We can be honest and compassionate. We have feelings and need to respect ourselves as well as those around us. Honesty and kindness strengthen our connections.

We need to share our stories. Our lives may seem ordinary to us but to the child who adores us, we’re fascinating creatures who’ve lead extraordinary lives. And we’re fun and funny.

Change occurs so quickly now that even we are in disbelief of all we’ve experienced. We grew up in different times. What once was the norm, now often seems like ancient history. Yet it still has the power to impress.

Steam trains are relics of the past, yet every week-end, weather permitting, enthusiastic families show up at Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum to ride the 1/8th scale model trains and learn railroad history and lore.

To our adult children (or others of their age), we bring experience. If we’re willing to listen without telling them what they should do, we can offer encouragement and likely learn something along the way. To quote the Beatles, we all “get by with a little help from…friends.” We live longer, healthier, and happier lives when we’re well connected with people both older and younger than we.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

How Worry Eaters Help Children Manage Fears

Plush character holds worries and cuddles

Everyone Worries

We are all afraid of something. So we worry. Children and adults alike. And that’s not altogether bad. In fact, our fears help keep us safe and motivate us to do whatever we can to avoid what we fear could happen.

Whether we’re 16 or 60, taking the written test to get or renew a driver’s license is likely to make us anxious. We fret over the possibility we’ll fail. That fear motivates us to study the manual until we feel prepared. No guarantee we’ll pass, but we’re more likely to answer the questions correctly and to feel less apprehensive.

Real Versus Imaginary

Children worry too. Sometimes their fears spring from their active imaginations.  Take monsters under the bed. These fearsome creatures may be make-believe, but to the young child not yet clear about the difference between fantasy and reality, the fear is real.

Magical thinkers who view the world from a self-centered perspective, children often believe themselves responsible for events. I recall our then three year old son thinking his grandparents had bought a new car because he’d thrown up in the old one. He worried they were angry with him. In his mind, he’d ruined their car. That months had passed between these unrelated events never occurred to him.

Tools for Managing Worries

Gerd Hahn knows the feeling of losing sleep from worry overload. A creative man, he used his angst and talent to create a solution – Worry Eaters. Engaging, soft, huggable characters, their manta is “Let me carry your worries so you don’t have to.”

Their invitation is simple.

1. Write down or draw your fears and worries.

2. Feed them to me – I’ll hold them for you.

3. We’ll get through this together.

That’s a powerful message. Worry Eaters help children put a name on their worries and express their feelings. As adults we sometimes can’t put a finger on the cause of our distress. Likewise children sometimes cannot find words to explain theirs.

A trusted, caring adult, can help a child figure out and assign a name to what’s bothering him. Through the process of sharing his feelings, the child gains emotional support. By feeding his worries to a Worry Eater, the child lightens his load, creating space between himself and his worries.

A favorite Worry Eater also becomes a confidant. Whenever a child needs an ear, Worry Eater listens. Soft and huggable, Worry Eater comforts and consoles.

Not Just for Little Kids

Worry Eaters help bigger kids too. School age children face daily challenges as they grow and develop. Managing worries in a healthy way is a must. Worry Eaters, like a journal, serve to ease anxiety by encouraging kids to identify and cope with what’s bothering them. The process of naming the worry and feeding it to a Worry Eater symbolically creates space for problem-solving.

Customers have purchased Worry Eaters for their young adult children too. I recall one buying two to send daughters in law school. She figured – and you know she’s right on – those young women had plenty of worries in need of holding.

Worry Eaters in Therapeutic Situations

I credit my daughter-in-law with this idea. Having individual Worry Eaters for every little kid client is expensive. What she suggests is creating a file box with an envelope for each client. Between sessions transfer the worries to these envelopes for safe keeping and quick retrieval.

Something for Everyone

Worry Eaters help children (and their adults) express and cope with their worries in a healthy way. With two sizes and an array of delightful characters-five available both large and small-you’re sure to find a Worry Eater perfect for every worrier in your life.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

 

Posted on

Multiple Benefits of Light Up Toys for Children

two-headed light show light up toy

Lifting Spirits

With darkness falling earlier and earlier, we need a dazzling light show to lighten our spirits. Fantastic Two-Headed Light Show does that and more. Spinning, bright colored lights in ever changing patterns attract our attention. Captivated by the dual displays, we watch the show and feel our tension slip away. We’re lighter in spirit, more joyful. Other light up toys that also enthrall are Meteor Storm, Mini Meteor Storm, and Light Show Stick.

Behavioral Distraction

Because light up toys are spellbinding, Fantastic Two-Headed Light Show, Meteor Storm, Mini Meteor Storm, and Light Show Stick are so enthralling that a child in the midst of a full blown meltdown may turn his attention to an amazing light show and stop acting out. In this case, the light up toy helps restore calm and supports self regulation. Meltdowns can often be prevented by providing a light up toy to a kiddo who’s struggling with self-control. “An ounce of prevention,” as the saying goes, “is worth a pound of cure.”

Therapeutic Distraction

In another setting, they make ideal distraction toys. Consider Meteor Storm. In a therapeutic setting, it draws a child’s focus away from a frightening situation. Child life specialists use light up toys to distract children undergoing simple medical procedures, such as a blood draw or inserting an intravenous drip line. Instead of the child freaking out, she becomes mesmerized by concentric circles of changing lights spinning inside a globe. Before the fascination wears off, the procedure is finished, and the child is too spellbound to notice. Such therapeutic distraction reduces patient and parent distress, improves patients’ coping skills and ability to cooperate, and makes the procedure go more smoothly.

Visual Tracking Assessment

Vision specialists use Meteor Storm to assess visual tracking in children who are blind and visually impaired. Those with low vision delight in holding one close to their faces, watching the bright colored lights spin while listening to the hum and feeling the mild vibration the spinning creates. Teachers frequently motivate students by setting aside time to play with a Meteor Storm once a task is finished.

Fine Motor Development

These light up toys develop fine motor skills. In addition to grasping and holding the toys, children must press and hold the switch that starts the light show. This means the child must pay attention to what he’s doing or the lights literally go out. Fantastic Two-Headed Light Show is the most accessible of the light up toys as grasping the toy around the middle is usually enough to start the show. The on-switch is wider and overall much larger than those on the other light up toys which require thumb pressure to activate.

Gross Motor Development

Lazer Fingers, lights with elastic bands for wearing on the fingers brighten up ceiling and walls as fingers dance and arms circle and swing. Getting a move on—dancing and prancing—takes the Lazer Fingers experience to new heights. To take it to the max, add music for a multi-sensory experience.

Added Safety On Halloween

Visibility is vital to safety as children go trick or treating. These light up toys make children easier for motorists to see in the dark. And add unexpected dazzle to the door-to-door trek.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Might Hospitalized Adults Benefit From Practices Advocated by Child Life?

baby with stethoscope and teddy bear
Making Hospital Less Traumatic for Children
I’ve written about the ways child life specialists make being in hospital less traumatic for children and their parents: advocating for positions of comfort, educating patients in age appropriate ways, providing distraction during procedures and opportunities for children to engage in activities that encourage self-expression. Play is essential to a sense of well being. Amidst the chaos of hospitalization, play gives children a normalizing experience. While playing, children are in charge, an important respite from having little control over what’s happening in their lives.
 Well Documented Benefits
All these practices reduce stress, enhance coping skills, and help patients manage pain. With preparation and distraction, procedures require less sedation thus reducing the risks of side effects. Patients recover faster, readmissions decline, and both children and their parents report increased satisfaction with the hospital experience. The benefits are so well documented that the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates for child life services.
Adults Struggle Too
Granted adults aren’t children, but illness and injury leading to hospitalization are discombobulating at best. Even the best educated, well informed, well adjusted among us can easily become overwhelmed by all that’s happening. We know we need to “get a grip.” We have questions and need easy to understand answers. We need time to process all that’s happening, figure out ways to cope, relieve our distress, and manage our pain.
Patient-Focused Care for All
 Recently the Wall Street Journal published an article online entitled “Why Hospitals Should Treat Adults Like Children.” Or to be more precise, how making adult hospitals more like children’s hospitals reduces anxiety and readmissions. This insightful article is a must read for everyone interested in patient-focused health care.
 Less Stress, Better Outcomes

The author, Lisa Ward, interviewed Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA, an assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine and co-author of “Balloon Animals, Guitars, and Fewer Blood Draws: Applying Strategies From Pediatrics to the Treatment of Hospitalized Adults,” which appeared in Annals of Internal Medicine, 19 May 2015.

Anyone who has ever been in hospital recalls being awakened every couple of hours for medical interventions, whether checking vital signs, drawing blood, or giving medicine. In neonatal intensive care units, best practice prescribes grouping interventions to minimize sleep disruptions. That’s a practice we all can appreciate and one example of how “treating adults like children” could make hospital stays less stressful.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Looking Back, Moving Forward

severely premature newborn
Previously I wrote on two topics that touch all of us – how our lives can change forever in a heartbeat and how staying calm empowers us to carry on. Lest we forget, the universe sends reminders from time to time.
The World Turned Upside Down
At birth, every child transforms the lives of its family. Daily living will never be as it was. That’s a given. When a child arrives at 25 weeks, two days gestation weighing 1 1/2 pounds, the world turns upside down. Obviously unexpected and clearly life-threatening, the situation requires everyone to remain calm, despite intense emotions. Keeping calm makes carrying on possible and insures the best possible outcome.
Entering A Parallel Universe
Most families never experience such an event. Those who have known how terrifying it is, even when the birth occurs in a hospital with top tier neonatal facilities. Such Neonatal Intensive Care Units are marvels of technology staffed with specially trained doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. Each infant is cared for by her own highly skilled nurse. To enter such a unit is to enter a parallel universe. Going there for the first time took my breath away.
My daughter-in-law recalls being in shock and feeling queasy on her first visit. Overwhelmed by monitors displaying information she didn’t yet know how to interpret and afraid to look at her daughter, she remembers the compassion of the nurse as she gently encouraged her to stop looking at the monitors and look at her baby, saying “I’ll look at the monitors. That’s my job. You look at your baby.”
I recall feeling apprehensive about being there and about what lay ahead for our only grandchild. Astonished by her delicate beauty, thick hair, and skin so thin I could see her heart beating. And dismayed by the enormity of the challenges she faced.
Acknowledging Feelings
That’s an invitation, however ill-timed, to acknowledge all the feelings that come with this experience. Doing so is essential self-care – imperative for keeping calm and carrying on. This journey is the ultimate rollercoaster ride. I’ve never relished the ups and downs, twists and turns of a rollercoaster, and even those who do can appreciate the difference between living on a roller coaster and a thrilling ride at an amusement park.
Counting Blessings
Our family has been blessed by what hasn’t happened as well as by what has. That’s life in NICU. The range of challenges is staggering. Every situation is unique yet shares common threads. When schedules overlap, parents become acquainted, exchange information, and offer encouragement.
 Although we do not know the parents and other grands, we appreciate their plight and exchange greetings in passing. Carrying on takes on new meaning when everyone is literally in “the same boat.” The journey is long and exhausting. A nod or a smile brings comfort and encouragement. Small gestures make a big difference.
Bundle of Joy
Ciera and her parents began enjoying skin time when she was four weeks old. She contentedly snuggled. My best Christmas gift ever was being able to hold her on Christmas Eve, the day she turned seven weeks old. By 36 weeks gestation, she had shed many tubes, lines, and leads.
Celebrating Milestones
After a nurse moved the feeding tube from her mouth to her nose, she became giddy with joy. She delighted in being free from that nuisance. This is not our imagination. She smiled more than ever and took joy in testing how far she could stick out her tongue and how wide she could open her mouth.
Discovering Likes and Dislikes
Ciera likes the sound of words beginning with “p” and “s”, an observation her mother tested out after I reported her delight in the word “purple.” She smiles every time she hears the word. She also likes the sound of peaches, pears, and plums, but not of broccoli.
Settling In 
She left the NICU at three months old, only to be readmitted six days later. After 12 days, she was once again in her own bassinet, adjusting to life on the outside. And so the journey continues. We’re all acutely aware that we’re still on that roller coaster, subject to unexpected, high speed twists and turns, and yes, that’s scary. But as her mother says, “we’ve got this.”
We celebrate each milestone and those professionals who worked tirelessly and compassionately to insure Ciera not only survived severe prematurity but thrives. Our favorite neonatologist reminds us to think of her age in terms of her due date, not her birth date. Wise counsel. That’s where she is. So newborn, first time parents, and never-expected-yet-delighted-to-be grandparents are all adjusting to our new reality, grateful for the opportunity to grow together.
Learning New Tricks
The first time she came to spend an afternoon with us, all went well, despite the learning curve that comes when the time between becoming parents and grandparents is 40 years. We laughed when our son called to express his gratitude for the free time and said, “Mom, did you realize you’d put her diaper on backwards?” “Son,” I replied, “do you think I’d have done that if I’d known front from back?” Four decades ago his diapers were cotton, secured with pins, and worn under plastic pants. Current diapering practices are but one of the new tricks we old dogs have learned.
We focus on how “baby girl” lights up our world and delight in holding her, sharing family stories, reading snippets of Dr. Seuss, and singing the purple people eater song, a fave for the girl who likes the sound of the letter p.

 

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Hats Off to Child Life Professionals Worldwide

baby resting on father

March is Child Life Month, a time for raising awareness of the psycho-social needs of pediatric patients and their families and celebrating the child life professionals who support those needs. Illnesses and injuries are always frightening. Diagnostic testing and treatments are too. That’s when the presence of a child life professional makes all the difference.

Educated in child development and how illness and injury impact children, child life specialists offer evidence-based, developmentally appropriate support. By providing information, procedural preparation, distraction, and therapeutic play, child life specialists help children cope with the uncertainties and fear that accompany being in hospital. Children experience less distress and are better able to manage their feelings as a result.

Child life specialists advocate practices that minimize distress. They encourage parental presence with guidance, comfort positions, and distraction during procedures. Comfort positions provide both physical and emotional comfort. Remaining calm is easier when a child is physically comfortable and emotionally supported. Procedures go more smoothly, children experience less pain, and what began as a frightening experience becomes easier for everyone to deal with.

Recently our micro-premie granddaughter benefitted from a medical staff aware of comfort positions. Experiencing a problem requiring readmission to NICU, she entered through the emergency department. During admission, she lay contently against her father’s chest. Once in an exam room, staff suggested he lie down on the bed with her on his chest – the perfect comfort position for her exam and initial treatment. Transport maintained that position on the trip to NICU. Parents and child alike were comforted by the compassionate care provided. An unexpected, frightening experience became manageable.   

Our family salutes child life professionals worldwide. Your efforts have transformed attitudes and practices for the benefit of children and their families, and we’re grateful.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Emotional Intelligence

From birth some children are easy going and easily soothed. Others arrive “kicking and screaming,” seemingly demanding we address their needs posthaste. Whatever their dispositions, infants are dependent on adults for nurturance. When someone responds consistently and lovingly to his/her cues, the infant learns that needs will be met and feelings respected. This creates attachment and builds trust, both essential elements in emotional well-being. Sadly many infants are not consistently nurtured, a situation that makes developing healthy relationships with others challenging.

And many well nurtured children have disorders that make social interaction difficult. Those with autism spectrum disorders have to learn social skills that come more naturally to others. Making eye contact, learning to interpret facial expressions and body language, and participating in a conversation are challenging and require patient, consistent encouragement from family and friends.

Role playing social situations helps build social skills; stories and games can too.

Eggspressions combines a storybook and six expressive wooden eggs to create a role-playing activity that helps children identify six basic feelings, communicate effectively, and collectively solve a problem. By sharing their feelings and working together, players figure out a happy solution to a challenge.

Eggspressions

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

On Child Survivors of Death by Suicide

When someone beloved dies, sharing that information with a child can be difficult. If the death resulted from suicide, often caregivers find themselves unwilling to share the cause of death. That’s a disservice. Keeping a secret does not protect a child from the truth and erodes trust. We need to be sensitive to the developmental level of the child, use age-appropriate language, and provide honest answers to all questions. Honesty builds trust, essential for healthy relationships and the giving and receiving of emotional support.

My mother used to say, “little pitchers have big ears,” meaning that adults may think children are oblivious to what’s going on, but they aren’t. Morgan Livingstone, a child life specialist working with child survivors of death by suicide, believes “that telling kids the truth and providing support for coping is essential, with no deception or secrets which can cause even more stress in an already stressed family.”

Fred Rogers had a gift for recognizing universal human needs and sharing his insights in ways everyone can understand. “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” Death by suicide is mentionable. Talking honestly about it makes the feelings more manageable for children and adults alike.

Unknown

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Benito, You Can Do It!

Meet Alan Quiñonez who knows that kids can’t fight cancer alone. Using his talents for storytelling and illustration, he has written and illustrated Benito, You Can Do It!, a series of bilingual, English/Spanish, picture books for children diagnosed with cancer.  The key character is Benito, a nine year old Latino, who has just learned he has cancer. The first volume, The News, focuses on the impact of a cancer diagnosis and provides information that helps children and their families understand the disease and the jobs of various players on his medical team.

This is accomplished through the arrival at the hospital of Benito’s favorite cousin, Pancho, a childhood cancer survivor who shows Benito a photo album documenting his journey. Sharing the album allows Pancho to provide important information and essential emotional support. His presence offers “living proof” of positive outcomes. This heartwarming insider’s account informs and comforts, and that’s precisely what children with cancer and their families need.

Alan ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to complete publication of The News. Reaching his initial goal of $8,800, and  his stretch goal of $10,000. All dollars beyond the initial sum support research and production of the next book in the series.

With a cancer diagnosis, the child begins a journey into the unfamiliar, and that is scary for child and family. Questions arise. What happens now? Who will take care of me when I’m in the hospital? Alan will provide child friendly answers in the second book in the series, explaining different types of treatment and life at the hospital.

Because a cancer diagnosis profoundly affects siblings who are often left behind, the third book will help siblings explore their feelings. This is key to their emotional well being as everyone struggles with the challenges of childhood cancer.

Imagine being a child returning to school with no hair and worrying about how classmates will react. The fourth volume will offer tools for meeting just such a challenge.

Benito, You Can Do It! is the result of thorough research and consultation with families at the nonprofit Latinas Contra Cancer in San Jose, CA. Alan interviewed Spanish-speaking families with children undergoing treatment at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital as well as their physicians, nurses, social workers, and child life specialists. He also spent countless hours getting to know the children during facilitated play activities.

Having previewed The News, I can tell you this is a delightfully illustrated, clearly written story offering encouragement and information to children who’ve received a cancer diagnosis.  Every child benefits from having his questions answered and feelings validated. Benito, You Can Do It! does both skillfully and with love.

blog-post-benito                                             Digital art courtesy of Alan Quiñonez

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

March: Child Life Month

Will March roar in like a lion and go out like a lamb? Will March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers? Folklore suggests so, but we’ll have to “stay tuned” to find out. Whatever the weather, we’re marching towards the arrival of Spring, the season of renewal, and celebrating Child Life Month and the invaluable contributions child life specialists make in helping children and their families successfully meet life’s most challenging events, particularly those involving healthcare and hospitalization.

Child life specialists use their extensive knowledge of child development and family systems to promote effective coping skills. They do this through age-appropriate play, procedural preparation and distraction, education, and activities that encourage self expression.

By providing emotional support and information to parents and siblings, child life specialists maximize the well being not only of the child but also of the family unit. Beyond that, they educate other members of the healthcare team on effective ways to meet psycho-social needs of children under stress and that improves outcomes. Education and advocacy are key to getting everyone on board in providing the best and most compassionate care possible. This means taking time to explain the procedure or treatment and what to expect during and afterwards, answering questions, using positions of comfort and distraction techniques to minimize discomfort and relieve stress. Everything goes more smoothly when everyone shares a common goal.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play