Archive for the ‘Trauma & Loss’ Category

What happens when it’s not the fairytale you expected?

March 5th, 2013

I went to a conference last weekend and met a person who worked at Disney. She shared with me that Mickey Mouse’s character costume has been changed countless times because of children’s responses to Mickey. Interesting.
A clinician I worked with once shared that the most abused and projected upon toy in his child therapy office was Mickey Mouse. Hmmm.

It got me thinking about Mickey and what would cause such a stir. Mickey is a simple non-threatening kinda mouse, it seems like he’s friendly enough since he has friends, and even a girlfriend. Why would there be Mickey-haters or those scared of the Mouse?

My therapist colleague explained that many of the children who projected their anger onto Mickey were children who were robbed of their fairytale. They had experienced loss, abuse, sadness, anger, hurt, upheaval, bullying, let-downs. Their lives were not the way they were supposed to be, and they were mad/sad, and Mickey is an easy target for all those feelings.

I wonder how many children feel like they didn’t get a fairytale life. How many princesses have been let down to find that prince charming doesn’t make her whole, how many kids were out-casted to the role of Goofy, or that they never felt like they belonged and had to create their own internal magical kingdom build up with big walls and a moat for protection.

As adults we look to protect children, to shield them from the dragons (or at least minimize the impact). Yet, it’s in these moments of loss, change, struggle, when a child feels helpless and hopeless that everyone else got the pass to the fairytale and they didn’t, is when your presence matters the most.

Your Presence.

Not your words, not what you do to solve the problems, not how you try to help them fix it- but your presence.

Mickey Mouse doesn’t speak, he’s a witness to the tides of feelings that flow from children who cannot put into words the pain they are feeling. A witness who doesn’t ask the child to be different in the moment or try to fix, diminish, explain the child’s feelings away.

Art is a safe witness for many children a place where they can explore, express, escape. Just observe as a child picks up art materials and knows without guidance or direction how to express themselves. Then notice what happens as they get older, how their creativity gets squashed or marginalized and they start to express they are not good enough. Throughout their lives they are in need of a safe witness for their feelings.

How can you channel you inner Mickey Mouse and be a safe witness for your child?

If you need more support, please reach out and we can find the resources to help you.

In March you can receive individualized support in several ways:

*Join the LIVE Event: To Medicate or Not:What Choices Do I Have? Q& A with Heather Chauvin http://heatherchauvin2.eventbrite.ca

*or Join the IPPC Support Call Challenging Kids, Stuck Families, Difficult Cases: Creative Support for Child Quandaries  https://thecreativityqueen.com/ippc/


What to do when the holidays suck

November 29th, 2011

It’s the most wonderful time of the year (insert holiday tunes here)… unless you have experienced loss, trauma, neglect, moved suddenly, lost a job, separated, or divorced, experienced physical illness, volatile behaviors of a family member, substance abusing behaviors of a loved one, or mental illness.

So what happens when you or your child experiences losses and changes beyond your control and the holiday season arrives? Everyone appears so jolly and excited, and your experiences have left you feeling like you want to curl up and hibernate through the holiday season.

Here are 7 ways to honor yourself and help your child transition through difficult times during the holidays:

1.              Allow yourself  to express your feelings- You may feel like you don’t want to be a downer at the holiday party when people ask you how you’re doing, so you put on a happy face and pretend everything is okay, and reply “I’m fine”. Yes, opening up your emotional floodgates at a party may not be the best way to communicate your feelings; however, you can honor yourself, and your feelings and let others know “it’s been a difficult time”. Model this behavior with your children, so they know that they don’t have to mask their feelings and pretend to be happy in order to make others feel okay.

2.               Listen to yourself- Take time to hear and listen to what you need. That may mean saying no thank you to invitations and spending an evening at home reading a book. You may need to quite down the busyness in order to hear what you need. You can use the art making process to ask yourself what you need right now, and then allow yourself to express that through the art. Art making can help your child to become quite and connect with their inner voice so they can honor their needs too.

3.             Find ways to honor your loss- Put together a photo album honoring memories, create a memory box, use glass paint and paint a glass candleholder in honor of your experiences. Take time to be with your feelings and help your child find ways to honor and express their grief and loss.

4.              Create a new story- Grief and losses often involve letting go of how things used to be. Take the time to acknowledge and honor what was, and then look at how you choose to create a new story. Get creative with a blank journal or art paper and create images and words of what you are welcoming into your life.

5.              Seek out support- Being alone in your pain often amplifies the feelings of being disconnected and unsupported. Find close friends, support groups, or a therapist to help you during difficult times.  You will go through a period of “new normal” where things will never be as they were before; surrounding yourself with support will help you and your child navigate this transition.

6.              Let go of other people’s stuff- When you are honest with your feelings or when problems arise in your home good intentioned family and friends may jump in to offer unsolicited advice or comments. Realize that their response is their stuff; perhaps they feel uncomfortable, or they want you to feel better, and move on, or they want to fix it. Thank them for their concern, and let them know what you need, “sometimes I just need talk things through, or someone to just listen, or I just need to express that I feel upset”.  If they are unable to support you in the way you would like or continue to give unsolicited advice let them know how you feel and seek out support from those who will respect your process.

7.              Be gentle with yourself- You may want to push through the pain or you may become overly critical of yourself and others. Model being kind with yourself and teach your children to be compassionate with their own feelings and behaviors, this will be a life-long gift you will share with your child.

If you or your child is in need more support you can schedule a complimentary consultation by clicking here.


7 Tips to Make Life Less Fearful

October 27th, 2011

FEAR- its a big topic these days. I’m seeing so many children, teens, and adults impacted by fear. Whether it is fear from a weak economy, fear from not doing things good enough, fear of embarrassment, or fear of spooky things in the closet, fear impacts everyone. With Halloween right around the corner you may want to use this as an opportunity to explore your (and your children’s) fears.

All the Halloween decorations are a great opportunities to talk about things that are scary. Create open opportunities to explore what things you or your children are afraid of. By gently asking what kind of things your child is scared of you may uncover some areas you can grow more. The 7 creative tips below will help you create emotional safety as you explore your (and your children’s) fears.


Fear has rippled through the economy and impacted daily choices. How has it impacted the average household and what are some creative ways to reduce stress for the whole family?

As much as you would like to believe that adult worries do not impact your whole family, it’s just not true. Children are tuned into their parents moods and actions. This occurs from the attachment bonds as babies and continues throughout the parent child relationship. When there is uncertainty in the household it impacts the whole family and creates a sense of feeling psychologically unsafe. You can use some of these tips to help create a feeling of safety and consistency even during fearful times.

1. Keep a schedule:
I can’t stress this one enough. I know that life is filled with unexpected events that can change a schedule at any moment: however creating a schedule and doing your best to maintain it provides consistency and safety.

2. Follow through with meaningful rituals:
When families face crisis there is a tendency to isolate from others and most rituals and celebrations are diminished. It is important to honor celebrations, even at times when things are difficult. The celebration does not need to be “fake” or pretending things are fine if they are not. Instead find a way to honor the person or situation in a respectful and loving way.

3. Stay connected:
Fear, loss, and feeling misunderstood often leads to withdrawal from others and may lead to depression. Stay open and connected to others even in time of great difficulty. This is a powerful opportunity to allow others to support you and will deepen the relationship.

4. Do not impose adult problems on your children:
You child does not need to know the specifics about the stress you may be encountering. It is not helpful for you to share with your child your financial worries or job worries. You do not need to share specific details with your children. For instance if they ask for something you cannot afford you can answer with,”We are choosing not to buy that right now”, rather than, “We can’t afford that, you know things are really hard right now and we do not have extra money for you to get whatever you want”.

5. Be open without being fearful:
You can model open communication with your family without giving a message of fear. If you are talking about the state of the economy or about someone who lost their house or job you can clarify how your family is safe. For example, “That happened, but we have a savings account, a good job, our home, and each other”.

6. Listen and normalize:
Sometimes listening is enough, without trying to problem solve. You can normalize feelings by letting your child know that adults have feelings like worry, anxiety, sadness, anger too. Talk about how it is normal to have these feelings and different ways they can express these feelings, such as journal writing, talking to a friend, petting the dog, going for a walk, etc.

7. Do something:
Cognitive behavior therapy suggests that doing something different or thinking something different will influence how you feel. If you want to reduce the worries and fear it’s time to take action. Turn off the bleak news and do something pleasurable. Have an art night scheduled where everybody in the family makes something together. This is a great way to build relationships, have fun, while doing something emotionally positive and teaching valuable self-soothing skills.

If you live the Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch, Bradenton area child art therapy can help your child develop new coping strategies to overcome their fear and worries . To learn more sign-up for your complimentary child support consultation here.

If you don’t live in the area, don’t worry. I created parenting resources to help children and teens you can immediately download and implement to help your child. You can lean more here .


Sexual Abuse and Trauma Treatment for Children

October 18th, 2011

Children respond to sexual abuse in their own way and each person processes their experiences individually. Depending upon the relationship with the perpetrator a child may feel shame, self-blame, and guilt. They may experience dissociation, whereby they become disconnected emotionally as a way to cope with the sexual trauma.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) responses include triggers of smells, tasted, textures, places or other sensory or physical experiences that may cause the child to re-experience the trauma. A child may become regressive in their behaviors and take on younger developmental behaviors such as sleeping with the lights on. Their endocrine system, which regulates the body, may be taxed to to continual stress and hypo-arousal. Children may developed physical illnesses, such as ulcers, in response to sexual abuse.

As they mature they may struggle with wanting to feel loved and how to be receptive to affection and expressing their sexuality. They maybe overtly sexual in an attempt to assert control and power or to feel validated and loved, or they may withdraw from expressing their sexuality and may feel threatened or vulnerable in close relationships.

They may seek out ways to feel in control of their feelings or body, such as using eating restrictions or self-injurious behaviors (cutting/ substance use) as a way to manage their feelings. They may also sublimate their feelings and become over ambitious in sports or in school and later in life use work as a means of control and power (and perhaps as a means of  avoiding feelings).

If your child has experienced trauma art therapy can help. Click here to schedule a child support consultation.


9/11: Helping Children Cope with Traumatic Events

September 10th, 2011

Many children today were impacted by the unexpected events of 9/11, and at the time they may not have had the coping abilities to manage their feelings and concerns about an event that felt scary and overwhelming. Children who witnessed the violent act of terrorism of 9/11, either in-person or on television, may have been left feeling confused, unsafe, and worried by their parent’s shocked reaction. Often in a crisis such as a sudden death, natural disaster, or an act of violence children’s lives are uprooted. They are left to processes their experiences while looking to the adults in their lives for protection and safety. When adults are processing their own shock and loss, they are often emotionally unavailable to be supportive of their children during a crisis. This is when support from professional can be most valuable.

Art therapy allows children the ability to process and express their feelings of loss, grief, shock, helpless, sadness, fear and other emotional reactions that arise during a crisis, such as 9/11. When asked to describe their feelings, children who have experienced loss and trauma may not be able to articulate their pain, and art allows a way to process their experiences.

A simple explanation of how brain functioning is impacted traumatic experiences makes the use of art therapy for processing trauma more easily understood. Traumatic experiences impact the brain’s nonverbal, subcortical regions of the amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus, and hypothalamus; rational thinking and reasoning are disrupted. Art therapy provides access to the nonverbal subcortical areas of the brain, whereby emotions and traumatic experiences can be more readily processed.

Here’s a creative activity to help your child process trauma and grief: Create a safety box. Find a shoebox or papier-mâché box. Ask your child to paint it or color it and add images and words that help them feel protected and strong. Inside of the box ask them to make a safe space. They can create any place, real or in their imagination, that helps them feel safe and secure. They can use words or images to make a safe place. Modify what materials you provide to your child depending upon their age or traumatic experiences, as some materials may cause children to respond regressively and too many materials may cause emotional overwhelm. It’s best to contact a trained art therapist to help support your child and provide the appropriate materials to help your child process their emotions therapeutically.

If your child has experienced a crisis or traumatic event, we can help. Learn more: click here to schedule a Complimentary Support Consultation for your child today.