A few weeks ago, we wrote about the Compassionate Self-Care Cards developed by Evieann Barber to help guide self-exploration in young people and even adults going through tough times. But there was still more to say! Here, Evieann writes about her own process of discovery that helped her recognize the need for tools to promote non-judgmental listening and the discovery of personal narrative.
As an early childhood educator of thirty-plus years and Certified Child Life Specialist since 2012, I have learned to start with an important truth: No two children are the same and no two families’ parent in the same way. I have also learned to be a keen observer and found that the more I listened – actively listened! – without judgment or interruptive self-talk, the more I was able to hear all these unique stories. Whether it’s the story of a five-year-old girl having a conflict with a peer on the playground, a hospitalized child/adolescent/adult having experienced an illness, trauma or loss, or the story of a parent expressing their need for better behavior from their child; all stories are meaningful and relevant to people’s lives.
I knew that I needed ways to truly help and support these people and families. In order to find a new tool, I reached deep into reflections of my own life. When did I feel heard? What events in my childhood had the most meaning and what feelings did I experience with them? When I found those old feelings – anger, sadness, joy, bliss, pain – what was happening, who was there and who was not there?
I found that many of my life experiences as a child were shaped by two factors either missing or present: Loving care and respect. When I felt loving care from those around me and was shown respect, my identity thrived and was nourished. When I did not experience loving care and respect from people and events in my life, these experiences created discord, uncertainty, fears, issues and blocks in my healthy development.
It has been in this reflective observation of my own life that I came to respect that in order for human beings to feel nourished, they need meaningful, relevant experiences. I learned to value a person’s story for the sake of the story rather than having an agenda for how I was going to fix it. As an educator and Child Life Specialist, it is not my responsibility to fix someone, but rather my choice to partner with them in embarking on an exploration of their story.
The philosophy closest to this kind of partnering with respect and care is Reggio Emilio’s early childhood philosophy, the “Image of the Child.” The Reggio philosophy writes, “To perceive the child as powerful and full of rights is the most important lesson we can learn from Reggio and the only place to start.”
Instead of an adult being simply a teacher or someone who supplied information, the Reggio philosophy puts the adult alongside the child in a collaborative process of learning. I feel this philosophy goes beyond education and can be applied to humans in general. We all need to be heard with respect and acceptance. And what better way to begin to learn these skills than to practice on yourself!
When I started this process of looking into my own life with compassion, a revelation came to me: When we respect, value and honor our own emotions and unique life stories, our ability to offer compassionate care to others will miraculously improve. This revelation guided me to investigate resources and tools that could help us all create opportunities for feelings of Control, Safety, Self-expression and Resilience.
That’s why I created the Compassionate Self-Care Cards and started Healing Nectar Arts, LLC around them. Organized around the C.A.R.E.S framework (Choices and Connections, Awareness, Relevance and Reflection, Experience and Empowerment, Self-Story), the cards create powerful opportunities for building trust and safety with self-expression and healing in a variety of settings.
Now they are included in a non-pharmaceutical pain & anxiety interventions pilot study in a therapeutic choice menu through The Cardiovascular Center at University of Michigan Medicine; an outpatient oncology program at University of Michigan Medicine are using the cards with adult patients and their families, the Child Abuse Prevention & Education Council, serving Charlevoix and Emmet Counties in Michigan, purchased 260 decks for social workers to use with children, adolescents and parents; the Child Life Specialists of the University of Michigan Health System have opportunities to use the decks in every unit they serve; the Association of Child Life Professionals accepted Compassionate Self-Care Cards into their resource library; and I have started offering presentations/trainings on Compassionate Self-Care and the CARES framework to interested organizations in educational and healthcare settings as well as family home settings.
Learning to listen to our own stories is the foundation of being able to truly hear others’ stories. It’s not easy! But with commitment, compassion, and the right tools, we can all join patients, students, and families in the collaborative process of self-expression that leads to growth.
— Frawer, S., Gestwick, C. (2002). Authentic Childhood Exploring Reggio Emilio in the Classroom. Canada: Delmar, Thomson Learning Inc
Digging Deep accepts guest posts on many topics from a wide range of experts, patients, health care practitioners, and others who work with sick children and teens. We welcome your perspectives and stories to share regarding ways to support the emotional needs of children with health challenges and the families and professionals who support them. Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be a guest blogger.