Author: Upopolis Team

Navigating grief when heading back-to-school

September’s around the corner and that means it’s back-to-school. Navigating this traditional yet unfamiliar life event can come with additional uncertainties and emotional responses for youth grieving the death of someone in their life.

If you are a grieving youth, remember that it’s normal to experience a range of emotions such as sadness, anger, confusion, and even happiness. It’s normal to worry about how you will concentrate in class or what you will say to your classmates when you see them again. These emotions and thoughts might feel really big right now as you are in a period of change and transition, but know that these are normal.

If you’re a parent or guardian who is supporting a grieving child or youth who is heading back to school, it’s also important for you to understand the wide range of emotions that the griever will feel. You should also recognize that children and youth may be yearning for a return to normalcy, which is completely normal; they may still grieve while demonstrating excitement, happiness or joy about returning to school, their classmates, and their regular activities. Acknowledge everything your child may be feeling and know, it’s all OK.

As we prepare to go back-to-school, there are some tips and tricks to help make the transition a little easier and more manageable. Encourage grieving children and youth to:

  1. Identify a safe person who they can express their thoughts and feelings to about going back-to-school. This might be a parent, coach, neighbour, or someone else.
  2. Establish a routine that provides them with a sense of stability and predictability. Consistent routines, before and after school, can help children and youth feel more secure during times of change.
  3. Communicate with trusting teachers, school counselors, and administrators about your child’s situation, only if they feel comfortable to do so. They can offer support and make accommodations if necessary. 
  4. Identify a “safe word” with a teacher or peer. Using this word can be helpful for when your child needs a break in school if their grief feelings feel too big and hard to manage.
  5. Bring a comfort or connection item to school that your child can keep in their backpack, desk, or pocket. Having a special item can help them feel connected to their person and remind them of special memories they shared together. 

Remember, transitions can be hard and they can come with a variety of thoughts, feelings, and emotional responses. This is normal! As youth head back-to-school, look for the helpers, connect with trustworthy people, feel all the feelings, and take it one day at a time.

Upopolis Sibling Island: A Space Where the Focus is the Siblings: Part 1

When a child or youth is hospitalized or diagnosed with illness, each and every member of the family is affected. An illness in the family can have adverse developmental, psychosocial, behavioural and emotional outcomes for siblings, yet support is rarely provided to this population and challenges are not typically addressed. The focus of pediatric health care settings is on the child with the illness, and unfortunately siblings’ needs and the impact the illness has on them goes unnoticed and unaddressed. Due to COVID-19 restrictions over the past few years, siblings and family members have been further removed as they have not been able to be present in hospitals, and so the impacts on them may be far greater.

Upopolis Sibling Island is a private online group specifically created for youth aged 10 – 18 who have a brother or sister with a chronic or critical illness, medical condition, or disability. The Island is monitored led by a Certified Child Life Specialist who monitors it daily, and provides ongoing psychosocial support, education, and engagement opportunities to the healthy siblings. Siblings of youth often experience feelings of loneliness and guilt, are at increased risk for mental health issues and may have trouble relating to or talking with peers at school who do not understand what they are experiencing. The Sibling Island provides a space for youth to openly express themselves, as well as meet and connect with a community of other siblings who are facing similar life situations.

Why siblings should join the Island?

To receive information and ask questions about their sibling’s diagnosis/condition.

To access tips, resources and activities to help cope with the feelings and experiences associated with being a sibling of someone with an illness.

To have the opportunity to socially connect with other youth and create a peer support network.

To join monthly programming and group sessions – including fun games nights!

Overall benefits of Sibling Island:

The Sibling Island provides an opportunity for youth to talk about their experiences, which helps them process what they’re thinking and feeling and in turn, helps them develop strategies to manage the challenges and difficulties they are facing.

Being part of a community helps minimize the sense of isolation that siblings often face when their brother or sister is ill, and helps normalize and validate all feelings youth are having about their sibling’s illness.

Youth can access completely trusted and vetted resources that are specific to their experience; child life specialists are present online to answer questions, concerns or worries.

What you can do?

If you are a professional who knows someone who you think would benefit from joining the Sibling Island, visit this link.

If you are a youth who would like to join the Island and connect with other siblings (or a parent of the youth), please email: support@upopolis.com

How to encourage creative “Loose Parts” play to promote coping

Have you ever watched your child take random pots and pans from the kitchen and turn it into a fun game of rock band? Has your child taken leaves, sticks and stones and designed a town in your backyard?  These are examples of “loose parts” play.

Loose parts are a collection of objects that can be used in a variety of ways for play. Using objects in their immediate surroundings allows children to use their imagination; it encourages them to creatively choose how they play.  

How can we use loose parts to promote coping, specifically in relation to our child’s illness or hospitalization?  Here are a couple ways you can get started:

  1. Use loose parts to help them communicate their understanding of a procedure or diagnosis. Have your child gather loose parts from their (hospital) room or living space, and use them to teach back their understanding. What can they find in their surroundings that explains what their diagnosis is?
  2. Use loose parts to help them prepare for a test or procedure. If you don’t have access to medical equipment that can be used for play, no problem! Loose parts from your surroundings can be used creatively as medical equipment when acting out the steps of an upcoming test or procedure.

Do you need some inspiration? During last month’s Upopolis UMeet, a monthly virtual programming session for our youth members, the theme was loose parts! We encouraged youth to explain a procedure or diagnosis. Our intern explained an intravenous (IV) needle using a headband as a tourniquet, a sticky note for a disinfectant wipe, a pop tube fidget toy to represent the “straw” of the IV, and a pen to represent the needle.

One youth shared their experience of getting an x-ray; they used a teddy bear, make up mirror and pillow to describe the steps of the procedure. Afterwards we were able to reflect on how easy, fun and effective it was to use loose parts to describe medical experiences.

Using every day household items creates a safe and familiar space for learning; it is also a great opportunity to have dialogue with your child about their feelings, thoughts and fears about upcoming tests or procedures, or their diagnosis. We encourage you to get creative, use your imagination and incorporate loose parts in your child’s play.

Part 2: 5 Tips for Supporting Children and Youth who have a Parent or Caregiver with a Serious Medical Illness

With so much attention given to a person who is sick or hospitalized, it’s not unusual for families to forget about the children or youth in their lives who may also be affected by this illness. For these children and youth though, feeling “forgotten” can be extremely difficult as they are faced with feelings of loneliness, confusion, anger, sadness and many others, often feeling like they have no one to turn to for support.

Last month we introduced to you our new Island for Youth of Adult Patients; an online platform for youth aged 10-18 to connect with others who are going through the same experience, wherever they may be in the globe and at whatever hour they choose to log on. 

While providing youth with options to meet others who are navigating the same journey as them is arguably one of the most important ways to encourage positive coping, there are things you can do as an adult in their lives to continue to help support them outside of our online platform. 

Read on for 5 tips for supporting children and youth who have a parent or caregiver with a serious medical illness:

  1. Acknowledge their feelings. Whether that’s happy, angry, sad, scared, or frustrated. However, it’s important to remember that everyone expresses their emotions differently; accept the way this child or youth is expressing theirs. 
  2. Focus on quality time together over quantity. What this child or youth needs right now is a support person they feel they can open up to, which is largely affected by the time you spend with them. Try to be fully present during your time with them so you can focus on the conversation, and most importantly their thoughts and feelings.
  3. Keep routines as consistent as possible. Be sure to prepare them for any changes in their day or week; continue with daily routines including going to school, doing homework, and any daily family traditions like reading before bed, and ensure they get to bed at their usual bedtime. 
  4. Be honest. Most of the time, children and youth can sense when something is not right or out of the norm. Keeping anything a secret gives them the opportunity to come up with their own scenarios, which tend to be far worse than reality. Be open and honest about their caregiver’s health, especially if they ask questions.
  5. Consider ways to help them stay connected with their caregiver. This could mean offering to take them for visits to the hospital, writing cards or drawing pictures for their caregiver, or having video calls or quality time alone together. 

Last but not least, it’s important to rely on any adults who have a trusting relationship with the child or youth; they will be able to help watch out for any unusual behaviours, and provide them with extra support and attention that they’re currently missing. 

If you know a youth aged 10-18 years who has a parent or caregiver with a serious medical illness, refer them to Upopolis today! E-mail support@upopolis.com for more information. 

Upopolis YAP Island: A space for youth of adult patients: Part 1

Have U heard? We have a new Island!

In 2020, we expanded Upopolis to include Islands – a place where youth navigating stressful life events can connect in private groups with other youth who are going through the same experiences, like grief and sibling illness. This year, the expansion continued to include a space for youth who have a medically ill parent or caregiver. We’re so excited to be able to support youth ANYWHERE in the world with another Island!

Upopolis YAP (Youth of Adult Patients) Island is an online private group within the Upopolis platform for youth aged 10 – 18 who have a parent or caregiver who is living, or has recently been diagnosed with, a serious medical illness. Statistics show that 31% of women and 20% of males diagnosed with cancer are a parent or caregiver of a Canadian youth – and this is only one of the dozens of serious illnesses that adults endure. The Upopolis YAP Island can function as an accessible form of moderated support for youth who would benefit from a) connecting with peers experiencing a similar situation and b) accessing resources and psychosocial support from Certified Child Life Specialists.

Upopolis YAP Island provides:

  • A sense of belonging to a safe, secure, private online community so youth can connect with other youth and professionals while navigating their caregiver’s illness
  • Age-appropriate information designed to help youth understand their caregiver’s diagnosis
  • Affirmation via shared experiences with peers
  • Easily accessible content that offers tips, activities, and resources to help youth cope with the feelings and experiences associated with having a sick caregiver

What are the benefits of YAP Island?

  • Monitored daily by a Certified Child Life Specialist, a professional with experience and education in supporting youth who are coping with serious situations, and the effects of this on the family
  • Fully accessible on any device with internet or data access
  • Provides an opportunity to directly connect with others who are experiencing a caregiver who is sick; sharing experiences helps youth process their feelings and provides them with a sense of control as they support others
  • Opportunity to ask a child life specialist questions related to their experience
  • Access to programming and group workshops

Next month, keep a watch out for Part 2 of our YAP Island blog series – we’ll be giving you 5 tips for how to support children and youth who have a parent or caregiver with a serious medical illness.

If you know a youth who would benefit from meeting other youth who are going through this same experience, refer them to YAP Island TODAY by visiting this link!

How to Give and Receive Compliments: Part 2

Complimenting someone seems like such a simple and easy thing to do. What’s surprising is the effect it has not only on the person receiving the compliment, but also the person giving it. Who knew feeling good could be so easy?!

Research shows that everyone from giving and receiving compliments because they contribute to your overall well-being. Compliments help to build relationships with one another, encourage motivation, improve communication and boost self-esteem and self-confidence. 

It’s also been said that the need to be seen, recognized and appreciated by others is critical to a positive well-being, which makes the act of complimenting that much more important! 

Did you know there are 4 types of compliments that you can give or receive?  

  • How people look:               “I really love your new hair cut” 
  • Things people have:          “Wow… that’s a cool new iPhone.” 
  • Things people do:              “You are such a great hockey player.” 
  • Ways people behave:        “You are such a good friend to me…” 

Now that we have the “giving” part down, lets focus on receiving compliments. Are we the only ones who find accepting compliments a little… awkward? If you do too, you’ve come to the right place! It’s not uncommon for people to feel awkward about what to say back to a compliment. Why does it seem so hard just to say “thank you”?!

Here are some tips to help you accept this form of praise well:

  • You guessed it… just say “thank you!” – these are two powerful words! 
  • Be aware of your body language – smile and show your appreciation 
  • Be humble 
  • Be genuine and not fake 
  • Repay with a compliment to them 
  • Match their level of enthusiasm 
  • Don’t attack or undermine the compliment

Self-esteem is vital to our well-being. With part 1 and part 2 of our self-esteem blog series, we’re sure you’re on the right track to improving your own! 

Other Upopolis blogs on this subject include:

How to Build Confidence in Teen (October 26, 2022). How to: Build Confidence in Teens – Upopolis

A Prescription for Self-Love (February 7, 2022). A Prescription for Self-Love – Upopolis

Written by Sophie, a post-graduate student from University of Guelph-Humber.

With references from Boothby’s “A Simple compliment can make a big difference”, Case Western Reserve University “5 Reasons why you should give compliments”, Penn State College “The power of compliments” and Kumar’s “10 tips of self-esteem to boost yourself easily”.

All About Self-Esteem (and how to have more of it!): Part 1

Imagine this: your friend compliments you about your new outfit. You felt so good, and flattered! However, you found that feeling starting to disappear when you realized you were unsure how to respond.

A few replies swirl around in your head….

Did you know, the type of response you give to your friend is related to your self-esteem? Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself – your qualities and characteristics.

A person’s self-esteem is described as “high” or “low” and can be a range in between. There is no “right or wrong” amount of self-esteem. However, higher levels tend to improve mental health, and lower levels can lead to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Using the above example, someone with high self-esteem would likely say “thank you so much” after receiving a compliment from their friend. People with high self-esteem often feel good about themselves. They have a positive outlook, feel happy, understand their strengths, and don’t rely on the approval of others to feel good.

However, someone with low self-esteem may shrug off the compliment and focus on what they think are the negatives instead of the positives. They might answer with something like, “oh, I hate how these jeans look on me!” People with low self-esteem may not have confidence. They may focus on negative qualities about themselves, feel they are not good enough, and often rely on the approval of others as a way to feel good about themselves.

Self-esteem is always with us. It’s that little voice in the back of our head, sometimes giving us “good thoughts” about ourselves and sometimes “bad thoughts” about ourselves. This is why self-esteem is an important part of our overall health and well-being.

Signs of Low Self-Esteem

Are you experiencing any of these? Do you…..

• Have an inner voice of self-talk that is negative?
• Find it difficult to accept or respond to compliments from other people?
• Find it difficult to accept or respond to constructive criticism or feedback?
• Have unhealthy coping methods such as overeating, drinking, or smoking?
• Avoid social gatherings or situations?
• Avoid challenges or difficult situations?
• Focus on what is unwanted more than what is wanted?
• Hesitate to try new things?
• Have a low level of confidence
• Find you are super sensitive?
• Focus intensely on personal problems?

Tips to Increase Your Self-Esteem

Self-esteem influences so many things, such as how we act, who we spend time with, whether we will try new things, and how hard we may try at work or in school.

Try these tips to boost your self-esteem and help you feel better about yourself:

Focus on Effort and Accomplishment: Make a list of all the things you are good at. Give yourself credit for your strengths and talents.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others: It’s easy to do. However, it’s a fast way to lower your self-esteem. Be proud of what makes you the unique person you are.

Do What You Love: Are you most happy reading a book, going to the gym, or shopping? Make time for these activities.

Detox from Social Media or Internet: Are you comparing yourself to online perfection? Take a break from those unrealistic and often fake images of people. Be mindful of the type of content you are looking at and if it impacts how you feel about yourself.

Hang Out with Positive People: Are your friends putting you down? Do you feel bad about yourself when you are with them? They are not likely your friends, and it could be time to get some new ones. Look for people who appreciate you and boost you when you need it.

Take Care of Your Body: Get active, exercise, eat well, and get lots of sleep!

Remember, being positive about yourself isn’t about bragging; it’s about liking “you” even though you know you’re not perfect!

Written by Sophie, a post-graduate student from University of Guelph-Humber.

With references from Kumar’s “10 tips of self-esteem to boost yourself easily” and Olivine’s “What is self esteem? A personal perception of self-concept, which can vary from positive to negative”.

Creating a world for all ages: Youth Takeover for International Youth Day 2022

Have you ever experienced ageism? It’s not something we often think about, but it’s a very common stereotype.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines ageism as “the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.” And on this day, August 12th, also known as International Youth Day 2022, we’re joining the masses in speaking out about ageism!

We wanted to learn how to leverage the youth in our lives for a better tomorrow. Thanks to Jenna, a youth on our website, who sent us her perspective and opinions on how ageism has affected her life (see below). She also offers advice from personal experience about what other youth can do to make the world a better place, even from a young age. This is just another reminder that there is so much value in youth sharing their experiences for others to learn from!

“As a youth myself, I think International Youth Day is very important. In my opinion, the most critical point in one’s life is the time of his or her youth. Society should focus on youth because they determine the future.

I think ageism is a very important topic and it’s so prevalent in our society. I have witnessed and experienced ageism against teens by adults. For instance, we are sometimes called “snowflakes” for raising our voices and having opinions on certain subjects. During school, [my classmates and I] were made fun of for our inability to read cursive (even though it wasn’t taught to most of us), but our ability to navigate technology (something we learned in elementary school, so it’s so natural for most of us now!)

I believe ageism is more engrained in society than other forms of discrimination. People don’t even think they’re stereotyping based on age. For example, when it comes to employment, I have found that employers often believe people my age are inexperienced. In my experience, providing the opportunity for young people to gain valuable on-the-job training is often used to justify unjust practices such as low wages (that are sometimes not even livable), or unpaid internships. These types of experiences are inaccessible to young people who have to support themselves but can’t do so when they take on unpaid work. Not to mention, then they try to access social protection which can also be hindered by age-based criteria.

I’ve also really felt the effects of ageism when it comes to being involved in decisions that directly affect young people. We are often viewed as too young, too immature or too apathetic to meaningfully participate in democratic processes, which limit our ability to help make important societal decisions. Ageism is definitely an underlying barrier that people my age face.

However, I truly believe youth can help change the world if we get the chance. Here are my tips on how to help change the world as a young person and to help reduce the ageism stereotype:

  1. Volunteer or donate to charity. Contact the local volunteer organizations in your area and discover a cause that you feel passionate about to work on!
  2. Shop carefully. In my opinion, businesses are some of the most important and influential organizations in the world today.
  3. Become an advocate. Speak up about injustices in the world and get your friends involved, too.
  4. If you can’t do anything major, focus on the little things. For instance, recycle! Anyone can recycle and these days just about anything can be recycled! From newspapers to plastic to computers and old mobile phones!”

Written by Jenna, a Upopolis member. All views and opinions are her own.

Happy International Youth Day to all the amazing youth we know!

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