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UGotThis! A COVID-19 Workshop for Teens

Wow, what a whirlwind couple of months it’s been for everyone! COVID-19 has brought us a lot of change. Our routines are different, we haven’t seen close family members for almost two months, some of us are working from home, our favourite stores and restaurants are closed, going to the grocery store is a planned adventure… the list goes on!

For kids and teens, a change in routine is especially hard.

During challenging experiences, children and youth need is a listening ear, the acknowledgment that what they’re feeling is normal, and some strategies to help them cope with change. We are here to help!

Upopolis is hosting UGotThis! A five-day workshop for youth aged 10 – 18 years old, in response to COVID-19 and self-isolation. The workshop offers youth exercises to explore their thoughts and feelings surrounding the pandemic and isolation, tips to help plan their days, support in developing positive coping strategies, encouragement on setting personal goals, and live support chats to connect with child life specialists and other youth participants. The skills youth learn during the workshop can be transferred to the remainder of this pandemic, and can be used to help them cope with any potentially challenging events they are faced with in their future lives.

Your child does not have to be part of our Upopolis community to join, the workshop is FREE, and it is facilitated entirely by certified child life specialists who are trained to support children and youth through life’s challenging events. In order for children and youth to come out of this experience positively, they need to be given the tools to be resilient.

Check out a sample of one of our lessons from Krista, a Upopolis child life specialist, at this link:

https://zoom.us/rec/play/u8V7dL3-rjw3TICQtwSDVqd_W9TsK_is1iAYqfJbzE62WnIHNVLzM-ETYrTQrRVoB4faHgS50cSvSo9G?continueMode=true

Do you want to sign up your child or know a youth who needs some support during the pandemic? E-mail support@upopolis.com to get them started!  

The ABC’s of Grief

Grief is such a tricky thing, because everyone grieves differently, and each loss can be grieved differently. The loss of a loved one is hard for even the most experienced adult, and there is no exception for a young person. The way someone grieves can be based on previous experiences in life and the developmental stage of the person going through the loss.

Here are three ways that you can support the young person in your life through grief.

Allow your teen or child to grieve.

  • Help them process their feelings, in a supportive way. Try just listening to them and acknowledging their thoughts and feelings.
  • Children grieve in “puddles” meaning that they tend to be sad or angry one moment and then the next moment they are back to laughing and playing. This is all completely normal.
  • Teenagers on the other hand grieve more like an adult but don’t yet have all the life experience to cope with all of these big feelings. They understand the permanence of death, and have the ability to deal with loss but only based on their previous experiences.

Be there for them.

  • Be there for them when they need to talk. Teenagers may feel that no one understands what they are going through because they are in an egocentric phase of development so it is very important to empathize with them and just be present when they need someone.
  • Be there for them when they need a break from the grief. Younger children have this innate ability to take breaks from their grief through play, and this time might be a good opportunity for you too, to take a break from those hard feelings for a moment. Teenagers may need to be encouraged to hangout with their friends.

Connect them with a community.

  • The importance of finding your “tribe” is so important especially to youth who strive on community and social acceptance. Finding that group of friends is even harder, and more important when a youth have gone through something that not many of their peers have, like the loss of a parent or a sibling.
  • Help connect them with a supportive community of peers who understand what they are going through. This community could be a local grief support group, or a bereaved summer camp or the Grief Pop-Up on Upopolis.

Introducing the Upopolis Grief Pop-Up

Upopolis saw this need and has created a special place for youth going through grief. This community aims to help these youth find someone else who just gets what they’re going through.

Meeting the Needs of Siblings

A brother or sister’s illness or hospitalization can have quite the impact on siblings. This medical situation is entirely new to them and the family as a whole. The sibling may hear and see things they don’t fully understand, their routines may be shaken up, and they may be separated from their family during hospital visits, admission or appointments. These siblings often find their brother or sister is receiving special attention and they themselves tend to feel left behind.

This is all normal.

The family may start to feel challenges affecting their dynamics and relationships, and the siblings can often start to feel lonely, isolated, confused, guilty, angry or worried. Parents may start to find the siblings of these children with illness or hospitalization are expressing their feelings through new behavioural issues, such as a difference in eating and sleeping habits, aggression, becoming withdrawn, difficulties in school, regressing to skills of an earlier age (such as wetting the bed), and clinging to parents.

This is all normal, too!

So how can we support these siblings?

Being aware of these changes and talking openly with your child is the first step in supporting them during this stressful time.

Tips for Supporting Siblings

  • Talk openly and honestly with your child about the events or situation affecting the family using information and language they understand. It is important to do this throughout your journey.
  • Continue daily routines and schedules as much as you can. Keep up their expectations (they still need to do their homework!) and engage in regular family traditions (do you have pizza night every Friday? Bring it into the hospital with them!) This gives your child a sense of security and stability.
  • Talk with your child about how they are feeling about their brother or sister’s illness or hospital admission; ask them if they have any questions or concerns.
  • Acknowledge these feelings and thank them for telling you! It’s normal to be feeling the way they are and your child needs to hear this.
  • Keep all your children connected with one another. This can be done through phone calls, texts, video chats, sharing drawings or photos, and making gifts like cards for one another.
  • Try to maintain alone time with the sibling. Would you have normally gone to their soccer game? Arrange for someone to stay with your other child so you can make these special moments.
  • Continue to reassure siblings that they did not cause this, they most likely will not get sick themselves, and that they are valued and loved.

Who else can help you?

            It really does take a village to raise a child! Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

  • Let your child’s school know about this situation so they have someone available there, like a teacher or counselor, to support them.
  • If you are not able to be with your child, make arrangements with an adult who your child is familiar with to spend time with them.
  • Look into support groups for siblings. Siblings will have the chance to meet and interact with others who are sharing the same feelings and experiences as themselves. This helps relieve feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Do you know a youth who is a sibling and is in need of more support? Upopolis can help! With a doctor’s referral, your sibling can join our new Sibling Pop-Up, a safe, online space where siblings can meet and connect with one another. Visit upopolis.com – Healthcare Professionals to have your child referred to our online platform, or e-mail support@upopolis.com for more assistance.

The takeaway? It is important for siblings to know that everything they are feeling is normal, and that they are a valued member of the family. Expressing their feelings, whether that’s with you or another support person or group, is key to helping them cope during these stressful situations. You may find that with some love and attention to detail, this stressful time turns into a positive experience for siblings and can help them develop into understanding and resilient adults.

Coping: Be Prepared

I don’t know about you, but it took me a while to figure out the best way to cope and reduce my anxiety for an upcoming medical procedure.

This is what I have learned:

  • Gather the facts; get your hands on age-appropriate information (only from a trusted source like UKNOW, the age-appropriate medical information database on Upopolis). Research tells us that our imagination is so much worse than the truth.
  • Write down your questions. After you’ve read up, write down any questions that have popped up. If you have time before you go to a test or procedure check-in with your Child Life Specialist or someone from your healthcare team. If you don’t have time to meet before, bring your questions to your procedure, ask them there.
  • Go over the procedure in your mind. Visualize it. Pay attention to what you are doing during the procedure. Are you watching? Are your eyes closed? Do you want to know what’s happening next?
  • Bring an object of comfort with you. Do you like music? Do you like to read? Do you have something you like to snuggle with? You may not be allowed to bring it into the procedure but it will be really nice to have it right after.
  • Finally, reflect. What worked? What didn’t work? Write it down so you can bring these findings with you next time.

I found the biggest thing for me was reflecting. Getting to know and understand myself and how my body reacts in times of stress was HUGE in helping me conquer my anxiety. What works for you[ ?


Tips to help support your youth as they return to school

It’s that time a year again, the youth are heading back to school. For youth experiencing critical illness or living with chronic illness back to school preparation does not just happen in September. Youth must often prepare for school re-entry post treatment or following an extended absence. Along with the typical back to school preparation which includes clothing and school supply shopping, these youth must also prepare themselves for the questions and reactions that they may get from teachers and peers. As well as for treatments, medications or side effects that will be done or experienced at school.

How do we as parents help to prepare our youth for the questions or reactions of their teachers and peers upon returning to school?

Brainstorm questions that your child might get asked. Sit down with your child and think about all the questions that they anticipate a teacher or peer asking them. You may want to invite a friend or two who spends lots of time with your child to help add questions to the list. Then, spend some time coming up with answers to the questions that your child is comfortable sharing. There maybe questions that are “off limits” and that’s okay. Be sure that your child knows that they can opt not to answer every question and that they have a response to let people know that this is not something they are willing or ready to discuss.

How would your child prefer to share information about their illness or absence.

This is a conversation worth having with your child and the school. Find out what the options are for sharing and education peers and teachers about your child’s diagnosis, treatment, and side effects. A little knowledge can go a long way to help people understand and be comfortable with unknown situations. Your child may want to address their teachers and peers immediately with a class Q&A or a presentation, maybe they would like you or a member of their health care team to be there for support. Give your child the options and let them decide how they are comfortable moving forward; be sure they know what platforms and support are available to them. To ensure you cover everyone questions, you may want to set up a Q&A box before the presentation or return to school date.

Are there treatments or side effects that are anticipated to happen during school time?

Be sure that there is a well communicated plan for treatments that must happen during school times.  Your child and their teachers should be a part of developing the plan to make sure that it gets carried through and that it works for everyone involved. For example, if your child is going to be late for every English class because they must stop at the office for medication, be sure the English teacher is aware. This will keep them from wondering where their student is, and it will keep them from drawing attention to your child as they slip back into class. Have a plan for the unplanned. Yes, if you know that side effects might occur, be sure there is a plan for when they do. Communicate this plan with the teachers too. For example, if your child gets nauseous. Have a paper with a symbol in the poach of your child’s binder or backpack. If they need to leave the class quickly, they can place this paper on their desk. Teachers will then know what is going on, can put in place the follow up actions, and will not draw unwanted attention to your child.

Having these conversations will help your youth get their best start to the school year or upon their return following an extended absence.

3 Tips to Support Youth on Their Way to Summer Camp

You might be wondering how you got to this point. Your little one, well not so little anymore, is off to summer camp! Your knee jerk reaction is to want to keep them safe, which often means having them within eyesight, ear shot or at least only an “arm’s length” away.

Of course, when they’re home you can watch over them, you know their plans and you can check in with them at any time. But now they’re heading off to camp alone, and wait, what? They’re going to take away their phones or ask them to leave them at home?

These are the thoughts that cross most parent’s minds when they consider sending their teens off to camp. Add a chronic illness to the equation and it quickly puts us in “mama and papa” bear mode.

As a team of child life specialists, our advice is to stop and do a reality check. Summer camp has the potential to help a chronically ill teen build confidence, become more independent and enhance their coping skills while giving them a chance to still be a kid! It also gives them access to a new community of peers, take on new responsibilities, and step out of their comfort zone to try new things.
If this is your reaction as a parent, your youth is probably having a reaction of their own. They’ll need you to believe in and encourage them when you’re sending them off to camp. When you believe in them it helps them become more open-minded to believing in themselves.

Here are our 3 tips to support youth on their way to summer camp


1. Start a dialogue.

Talk to them about what they can expect at camp. Check out the camp’s website to see the cabins, activities, layout, and pictures from past seasons. This helps youth regain a sense of calm, because they will know what to anticipate when they arrive.


2. Be positive.

Keep camp related talk positive. This means keeping your own emotions and internal conversations in check if you must. Avoid placing your fear on them by saying phrases like “a week is long; do you think you could manage being away that long” or “I hope you don’t get homesick.” Remember they might also listen in on conversations you’re having with friends and family so be sure to stay positive even when you’re on the phone. You can put a positive spin on your conversations with them and others and build them up with phrases like: “I can’t wait to hear about all the fun you’ll have” and “I hear at camp they have____, you will love that.”

3. Trust them, they’re experts.

Know the camp’s policies and trust in them. The staff are experienced, they run camp programs all the time, and they’ve learned how to help set your camper up for success. This might include a ‘no cell phone’ policy. Phones distract youth and can stop them from living in the moment. They can also make it difficult to keep them on task or on a schedule. Encourage your child to gain independence and learn new skills while they’re away from home. Having their phone is a constant reminder that they aren’t at home which can actually enable homesickness. Find a communication solution that everyone is comfortable with. Perhaps this means encouraging letter writing, or leaving a handwritten note with the staff. If they like to listen to music, perhaps you can set them up with an alternative device to use. Check in with the camp to learn about their policies and find solutions.
We hope these tips give you a bit of confidence when sending your baby off for their big adventure. They’ll be back in your arms with incredible experiences to share in no time. If they’re looking for a way to stay in touch with their new friends at camp, Upopolis, our private and safe social network for chronically ill youth is a great place for them to connect. Contact us to learn more.