Developing Luna: representing grief in childhood

Emmi Smid, author of Luna’s Red Hat, walks us through her creative process as she developed Luna’s character: from her name and her look, to her dress and her special hat.

The name Luna

The name Luna is not a coincidence.  Luna is Latin for moon. Symbolically, the name Luna stands for transition, renewal and balance, among other things. I thought it a suitable and hopeful name for a young girl who is coming to terms with the loss of her mother.

The Moon is also a place most ordinary people can’t reach. What goes on up there is incomprehensible to us. At some point in the story, we see Luna’s Mum depicted on the Moon, trapped in her own world and out of reach. People who have dealt with a suicidal loved one will be able to empathise with this.


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Luna as a Rabbit

While I was developing Luna, I played with the idea of using an animal for the main character, as you can see in the sketches below, but eventually decided against this idea. Suicide is a fathomless notion, whether you are a child or an adult. In this specific case, I felt that it was very important to show children (and their family) that they are not the only ones going through this. Therefore, I wanted to illustrate a representation of an ordinary family.luna rabbit 2

luna rabbit

Luna as a girl

Ever since that I made that decision, Luna’s look went through quite a few changes – from using different materials, which gave her  a different feel as a character, to different heights; from tall and gangling to the petite but feisty 6-year-old she is now.luna girllcollage

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Luna in 3D

I also made a 3D version of Luna, so I could play with light sources and shadows, and use photos I took of her as a reference for my illustrations.

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Luna’s Dress 

Luna’s dress, with its checked pattern, stayed the same throughout the process. It was inspired by a dress my Aunt Judith used to wear when she was around that age. The dress has appeared in several of my fine art pieces throughout the years, as you can see below, and finally found its destiny in this book.

luna dress

 

Luna’s Red Hat

Ironically, the thing I struggled drawing most was Luna’s red hat! It was either too small, too floppy, too big, too bonnet-y, too red, or not red enough, and even looked like a fire brigade hat or a UFO. You name it, I’ve drawn it, over and over again.

 luna red hat

 

Emmi Smid is a children’s book author and illustrator. She was born in the Netherlands but currently lives and works in Brighton, UK. Learn more about Luna’s Red Hat here.

The Story Behind Luna’s Red Hat

Featuring suicide in a picture book may sound like an unlikely combination to some people, which is why we’ve asked Emmi Smid, author of Luna’s Red Hat to explain what motivated her to write and illustrate Luna’s story.

That art is a necessity to society’s well-being and structure is, in my humble opinion, a fact; creative people have the ability to shine a light on important matters from different perspectives. Through their words, visuals and sounds, these products of creativity encourage us to ‘think outside the box’, touch people’s hearts and bring people closer together.

My background originates in Fine Art. With my above-mentioned image of “The Artist” in mind, I struggled to find the ‘use’ for my own art within our modern day society. What do I have to offer that could potentially add something positive to how we think about and deal with current social matters?

During my time at the University of Brighton, where I read for a Masters degree called Sequential Design/Illustration, I started revaluing the importance of the picture book, and how a balanced ‘marriage’ between words and pictures can teach not only children, but also adults, simple but profound lessons in life. So, I started by revisiting my collection of picture books that handle the topic of death: Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, Wolf Erlbruch’s Duck, Death and the Tulip, Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle, among others. Then the penny dropped. As beautiful and heartfelt as each of these picture books were, none of them touched upon the topic of loss through suicide. I noticed this because I have lost loved ones to suicide. I was 16 when my friend Bram committed suicide. We were the same age, and we were raised on the same street. We went to primary school together, and after that to secondary school. As far as I knew Bram was always going to be a part of my life, until he wasn’t. His sudden death came as a shock to all of us – Bram’s family first of all, my family, our mutual friends and their families, our teachers, the school, there was a real ripple effect.

In the spring of 2009, when I was 21 and had moved from my home country the Netherlands to England to study Fine Art at University College Falmouth, my aunt Judith committed suicide. She left behind her two daughters, Merel and Silke, aged 14 and 10 at the time. Being away from home, I felt rather disconnected from my family. I was concerned about my cousins – with all of us struggling to grasp the notion of suicide and getting our lives back on track, how were my cousins going to deal with this at their age? I felt powerless and useless.

Fast-forward to January 2014, and there I was discussing the idea of designing a picture book about dealing with loss through suicide with one of my tutors at the University of Brighton. I was very passionate about the idea but the fact that there weren’t many books about the topic made me doubt myself. “If you are not sure, then maybe you should start by finding out why there aren’t many children’s books about suicide?” my tutor suggested. So I sat down and came up with a number of reasons why: the notion of death is difficult enough for children, let alone dying by apparent ‘choice’; we live in a society where children are wrapped up in cotton wool and are protected from real life for as long as possible; Suicide is still a social taboo.

None of these reasons felt very satisfying – in fact, the more I thought about it, the stronger the urge became to confront and perhaps even tackle those reasons. Children are as clever as adults, with the difference that they lack life experience. The only way for adults to help children gain life experience is to provide them with the tools to deal with life, as and when it happens. Social taboos are created and perpetuated the same way: it all boils down to our own lack of tools to be able to empathise rather than judge, communicate rather than ignore, and confront rather than beat around the bush.

Unfortunately, people commit suicide. I have felt isolated and lonely when trying to deal with overcoming the loss of my friend and my aunt, and I have seen the effects it has had on my family and friends. If we adults are struggling, then how will young children deal with such a loss? Determined and on a mission, I created the first series of sketches telling Luna’s story:

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I posted the sketches on my blog and asked people for feedback. The reply of Alexis Deacon (writer and illustrator of picture books such as Beegu) made me take a step back and reconsider my approach: “You might try offsetting the sadness with moments of humour or just exploring different kinds of sadness. After all, the message is an important one and you are more likely to reach a wider audience if you don’t club people round the head with it!”

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Considering the sensitivity of the topic, I also decided to get feedback from specialists in the field. During my research I read the book Couldn’t You Stay for Me? by Dutch bereavement specialist Dr Riet Fiddelaers-Jaspers and contacted her. Riet has been an immense help ever since, providing me with feedback regarding different stages of grief and sharing her expertise with me. She also agreed to write the ‘Guide for Parents’, her contribution in the back of Luna’s Red Hat, which is designed to help parents, carers, teachers and professionals to support and communicate with children who have lost a loved one through suicide.

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In search for feedback from parents who have been through similar situations, I contacted Belgian bereavement institution Werkgroep Verder. They agreed to share my manuscript with some of their clients, and I received some very useful and eye-opening replies. The one that got to me most was feedback regarding one of my illustrations. I wanted to show Luna being overwhelmed by her own anger, through drawing a big metaphorical red wave of anger behind her. A parent rightfully pointed out that one never knows whether the child was exposed to the incident, and that “splashes of red liquid” may cause further pain. I instantly decided to make the wave blue instead.

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Designing Luna’s Red Hat has been a tough but blessed learning curve, personally as well as professionally. There are many more insights into the process that I could show you, but the main insight I would like to share with you, is that we can learn to embrace our losses together, however heartbreaking they may be. I wasn’t able to physically be there for my cousins Merel and Silke when they lost their mother, but I dedicate this book to them. If Luna’s Red Hat could provide parents and their children with a new perspective or hope in even the slightest way possible, then that would mean the world to me.

Emmi Smid is a children’s book author and illustrator. She was born in the Netherlands but currently lives and works in Brighton, UK. Learn more about Luna’s Red Hat here.

 

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Thoughts behind ‘The Music of Being’

Levinge_Music-of-Being_978-1-84905-576-5_colourjpg-printIn The Music of Being, Alison Levinge explains the approaches of key child development theorists and explores how they apply to and inform the practice of music therapy. In this article, she discusses the inspiration behind writing this unique book and how she feels Winnicott’s theories resonate with the central aspects of music therapy.

We only have to observe a mother with her baby to realize that we are deeply musical beings. Training as a musician, combined with an understanding of human development, has led me to consider the significance of this medium and in particular, its value as a therapeutic tool.

No matter what our musical preferences may be, whatever our age, where we live or more significantly, in what ways we may find life difficult, music can enable us to connect more deeply to who we really are. And this can happen even when we are yet to be born!

Our early experiences are impressed upon not only our physical being but also upon our cognitive and psychological states of mind. But what is it like to be a baby? How do we let people know what we are feeling? How do we ask for what we need when we do not have words? Above all, what is it that we require in order to help us along the journey of life in a healthy way? Through helping children and adults who have difficulties, I discovered the value of music and its remarkable ability to engage a child or adult in a relationship. I discovered music, in fact, is a universal language.

In the world of words, there are many who have studied early development. Donald Winnicott, a pediatrician and psychoanalyst, is one who dedicated his life to the study of babies with their mothers and it can be said, was an early prime mover in the field. My book evolved through interweaving some of Winnicott’s ideas with my experiences as a therapist, combined with my understanding of a musical relationship. Music can allow us to express ourselves in so many ways that words may not.

 

Alison Levinge, PHD, LGSM(MT), Cert.Ed., is a music therapy practitioner and researcher. She specializes in music therapy with children experiencing early developmental difficulties and issues relating to bereavement. She teaches and lectures internationally and is based in Bristol, UK. Read more on her book The Music of Being or order your copy here.

A sneak peek into Luna’s Red Hat

It is spring. Luna is in the park, wearing her Mum’s red hat. The sun is shining, but today is not a day for feeling sunny: it was a year ago today that Luna’s mum committed suicide. Fear, anger, and guilt are just some of the emotions that Luna is coping with. Luckily, her Dad is there to help Luna with her emotions and questions.

 

An extract from Luna's Red Hat

An extract from Luna’s Red Hat

Emmi Smid is a children’s book author and illustrator. She was born in the Netherlands but currently lives and works in Brighton, UK. Emmi wrote Luna’s Red Hat for her cousins, who would have wanted to have a book like this when they were younger.

Fostering Resilience in Children

scaryMelissa Moses, author of Alex and the Scary Things, offers some insight into why it is important for children to develop the right skills to cope with overwhelming emotions.

According to a study published in December, 2014 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, nearly half of all children in the United States are exposed to at least one social or family experience that can lead to traumatic stress and impact their healthy development. These include such childhood experiences as extreme economic hardship, parental divorce/separation, living with someone with a drug or alcohol problem, witnessing or being the victim of neighborhood violence, living with someone who was mentally ill or suicidal, witnessing domestic violence, being treated or judged unfairly due to race/ethnicity, and the death of a parent.

The study found that more than 22 percent of children represented in the survey had two or more of these traumatic childhood experiences. Researchers found that children with two or more adverse experiences were more likely to struggle in school and have a wide range of chronic health problems, including asthma, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and obesity. The study also suggests that training parents, providers, and communities to help children cope with traumatic experiences can help build resiliency, leading to later success despite the obstacles.

After spending two years working with children, adolescents, and families who had experiences trauma, I decided to write Alex and the Scary Things to help kids develop skills to cope with overwhelming emotions. Additionally, practicing the skills in Alex and the Scary Things will help children begin to feel a sense of agency in dealing with the effects of trauma. A strong sense of self-efficacy and self control, as well as encouraging individuals to recognize their accomplishments, helps foster resiliency in the face of trauma. My intention was to create a character with whom a child could identify without having the story feel overly therapeutic. In Alex and the Scary Things, children are taught strategies and skills such as breathing techniques, grounding skills, and emotional expression. My hope is that the story is fun and engaging so that children actually enjoy practicing the skills!

Melissa Moses is an Assistant Psychologist at McLean Hospital. She has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. Melissa has a private practice in Belmont, Massachusetts and specializes in treating survivors of trauma and the treatment of substance use disorders. She also has an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. To learn more about  Alex and the Scary Things click here.

Alex and the Scary Things

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Can children regain hope after suffering loss?

A social worker by profession, Camille Gibbs works closely with children who have experienced trauma and loss. Camille’s new book A Sky of Diamonds  presents a touching story of how a girl named Mia copes with the death of her mother. In an enlightening Q&A, Camille explains why and how Mia’s story came to be.

 Gibbs- a sky of diamonds - pg 46 - imageWhat was the inspiration behind writing A Sky of Diamonds?

I can recall, as a child clearly thinking that if I were to lose a loved one, I would find comfort in the idea that I could still talk to that person if I were to look up at the stars, as the stars are a constant. I think therefore that this book must have been in my head for many years!

During the writing of A Sky of Diamonds a close family member of mine was diagnosed with a serious illness. This news made me think about the possible impact that such a death would have on my own young daughter.  I thought about the types of questions she might, as a five year-old ask, and the reassurance and comfort she would require from those around her. My first book, One Marble a Day looks at the experience of a young child placed with an adoptive family.  Feedback from adoptive families has been that the book has helped children placed in their new family – as reading that others are experiencing similar feelings and emotions can be extremely comforting and reassuring. This led me to think further about the impact of the loss, through bereavement of a parent and how life changing this experience can be.

As you work with children who are being put into adoptive placements, you must see children going through a number of hardships. Are there many children in the adoptive system, who are there because of the death of a parent?

As a social worker in a family-finding team who specifically finds adoptive placements for older children, the children I work with on a daily basis have experienced trauma and considerable loss. Although, in my ten years as a social worker I have not experienced a child being placed for adoption due to the death of a parent, I regularly work with children who have been removed from their birth family as a result of abuse. On occasion, I have also worked with very young children who have been relinquished at birth. Although one might imagine that a baby or very young child has limited awareness, it is very clear that even very young children will grieve due to their separation from an adult with whom they have established a close relationship, whether this be the birth parent or a subsequent care-giver such as a foster carer.

A Sky of Diamonds is about loss, grief and hope – do you think children can have hope after loss due to death or separation?

Whilst the loss of a loved one changes a child’s life forever, it is important to nurture hope. It was my aim that A Sky of Diamonds will help children and their family members to see that grief is a process that has to be worked through before a child can move forward. Whether the loss is due to the death of a parent, separation via adoption, or due to another cause, what is key is the availablity of sensitive adults who are open and honest.  These adults can help the child to process their feelings, through validating the pain of losing someone, but also through helping the child to develop awareness that joy can still be derived from loving someone deeply.

In your experience, do children grieve differently when losing their parents/guardians, be it due to death or separation?Gibbs- a sky of diamonds - pg 28 - image

Grief is a process that a child needs to pass through before they can recover from the loss, whether this be as a result of death or separation from a parent, or someone with whom they have formed a significant meaningful relationship. Put simply, children need to grieve in order to move forward – there is no shortcut.

There is also the added complexity that the child may have had both positive and negative experiences when living with their birth family, and thus, some children will need extra support in managing overwhelming feelings as they develop an understanding of their earlier life experiences. Often children require support in expressing their anger and this can present at various stages in their development. Unlike the death of parent, a child who has been separated from their parent may know that the parent is still alive through some degree of contact.  This contact might be direct or indirect via letters if they are placed in a new adoptive family or in foster care.  Therefore the grief cycle may need to be repeated at different times.

What is the core message of the book and why do you think it would help children to get through their grief?

The core message of A Sky of Diamonds is that, although the death of a parent who is deeply loved, is the most painful experience one can suffer, with the right support there can be hope and a child can be helped to live a happy and fulfilling life.  A Sky of Diamonds is honest in its approach.  In writing from a child’s perspective it offers the message that it is okay to express emotions.  Children reading it will see that they are not alone in experiencing strong emotions and in the book, the main character’s father is also seen expressing his emotions at times.

A Sky of Diamonds addresses some of the questions children commonly ask about death. Helping a child with answers to these questions, enables them to better process what has happened and avoid fantastical thinking or becoming overwhelmed with anxious thoughts about surviving family members or their own mortality. The book highlights the importance of giving children the time and space to work through their feelings and provides ideas for therapeutic activities that a surviving parent or adult working with the child could put into place to support the grief process.

Camille Gibbs is a social worker in the field of adoption, specialising in direct work with school-aged children moving to adoptive placements. Learn more about A Sky of Diamonds here.

 

“It’s just a bit o’ banter, innit?” – Why “That’s so GAY!” still needs to be challenged

Jonathan Charlesworth is the Executive Director of the charity Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH), UK, and author of That’s So Gay! - Challenging Homophobic Bullying. He has over thirty years’ teaching and training experience and regularly delivers training and consultancy on homophobic bullying, harassment and crime to schools, colleges, universities, and the police service. In this post he explains why homophobic name-calling is still a problem, and one we must work together to challenge.

“Got your little clarinet, have you? You’re so flippin’ gay, you are!” I heard this one sneered at a pupil in a corridor not so long ago. This is a fairly straightforward one with which to deal. Our ‘perpetrator’ had targeted her insult directly at another pupil and called him gay. Presumably those dishing out homophobic name-calling, perceive it to be okay for a girl to be seen carrying a clarinet but not a boy, so one must assume effeminacy equates to ‘being a girl’ with the two seen as interchangeable? There is always interesting work to be done here around sexism and gender with all our pupils and youth group attendees.

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That’s So Gay! – Challenging Homophobic Bullying, by Jonathan Charlesworth

It’s certainly easy here for a member of staff to recognise that one pupil has denigrated another and this requires an intervention or sanction. What’s harder to challenge for staff in schools or informal youth settings is the ‘victim-less crime’ of something being called ‘gay’ like homework, or a pop band (who aren’t – or can’t all be), or something intangible like the cold as in “Oh, God, this weather is so gay!”

How often have you spoken to your son or daughter about ‘calling things gay’ and they retort with, “But it’s just banter!” Or you’ve spoken to a young person if you’re a teacher or someone who works in children’s services and they fob it off as being just a ‘joke’ whilst someone who is the target of homophobic bullying and who is really worrying you misguidedly dismisses their abuse simply as ‘a bit of a drama’.

Many schools will be indicating consistently that homophobic bullying is wrong and pupils will recognise that it is unacceptable to treat someone differently because they are gay or are thought to be. Where schools often struggle is with the use of homophobic language and phrases such as ‘That’s so gay’. In these cases pupils will often not see that their actions have a direct consequence for anyone. As a result it will often be perceived as ‘harmless banter’.

Any of us who work with young people will recognise that homophobic language is frequently used without its perpetrator’s thinking and is often overlooked or even ignored because it can be difficult to know how to respond without awareness-raising or appropriate training.

I recently explained to a Deputy Headteacher in a secondary school that we were soon to see the publication of my book to help schools challenge homophobic name-calling and bullying: That’s So Gay!. “Oh, yes!” she exclaimed. “But they don’t mean anything by that, do they? They say it all the time and it more often than not has nothing to do with sexuality!” I did my best to explain diplomatically why it is important to take homophobic name-calling as seriously as racist or disablist, but by this point she was smiling at me with that look of someone who is thinking about something else and has ‘checked out’. It may come as no surprise to learn that the pupil whom I’d come to support and discuss left the school a few weeks later because of homophobia and cites being much happier in their new school.

This is just one localised example of how homophobic name-calling is regularly brushed off as ‘harmless banter’ and not thought to be particularly hurtful. Its use, and homophobia in schools in general, does need to be challenged because ignoring it absolutely allows homophobic bullying to gain a foothold, continue, then escalate.

To be borne in mind however is that a lot of pupils will be reluctant to admit that they are upset by the homophobic abuse whilst the desire not to be seen as weak or a victim can make pupils equally reluctant to report any form of bullying.

If you’re being bullied because you’re, for instance, black, Asian or Jewish in all likelihood your parents will have had several conversations in front of and with you about faith-based or racist bullying and harassment. There’s comfort at home provided by understanding, compassion and shared experience. With disability often comes the sense that it’s ‘not their fault’ and despite the ‘retard’ and ‘spaz’ insults, which have so charmingly resurfaced in recent years, pretty much every pupil acknowledges disabilist name-calling and bullying as a taboo.

Sexual orientation meanwhile is too often considered by both young people and adults alike to be a ‘choice’ rendering the gay person a legitimate ‘victim’ of their bigotry and disapproval. Gay or lesbian young people invariably also don’t have the luxury of someone at home who shares their sexuality and who can empathise with feelings of awkwardness or ‘get’ what their ostracism ‘feels like’. If you’re being bullied because you’re heterosexual but your ‘Mums’ are lesbians this can present its own set of problems.

Although young people who hold on to stereotypes may not wish to withhold equal rights from gay people they may well have their sense of who gay men and women ‘are’ skewed by television depictions and not see it as a priority or empathise with the issue.

The belief that being gay is inferior to being heterosexual leads to subtle behaviours such as jokes and vocabulary that can be very damaging to gay young people. One of the most obvious examples is the pejorative use of the word ‘gay’ among young people to describe something as worthless, wrong, dull, stupid or inferior.

Way too often pupils in school believe that reporting their bullying looks like taking it too seriously which will simply attract more abuse. We also know that too often, pupils are  not confident in the mechanisms schools put in place to respond to bullying. Similarly too many feel that their teachers will not take the problem seriously. They can also be unsure how to report if homophobic bullying is not specifically cited as unacceptable within school policies and practice.

Pupils regularly tell me and my colleagues at Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH – www.each.education) about a lack of clear and consistent sanctions in school when responding to bullying. Many fear that by reporting bullying they themselves will be excluded from activities in order to avoid being targeted by their perpetrator(s). EACH regularly hears stories of targeted pupils being asked to change separately for sports lessons, physical education, or leave lessons early in order to avoid running into their tormentors.

When so much legislative progress has been made for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, pupils might question whether co-opting the word ‘gay’ as an insult really matters. Language changes all the time and many young people will argue that calling their homework gay has nothing to do with their opinions on same-sex relationships. In fact young people who themselves identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual will use ‘That’s so gay’ in this context. For these pupils the word can have several meanings which they think has no connection to their attitudes towards themselves and other gay people. Education about historical oppression and the tremendous battle fought for equality evidently needs to be for all. There is also a chance pro-behaviour is at play here. This is when someone who is conscious of feeling ‘outside’ of society’s ‘mainstream’ deploys self-deprecating humour to divert attention away from their, for example, disability, ethnicity or sexuality. It sometimes works but to those who can see what is happening it is more often embarrassing.

If a pupil or a young person in your care uses homophobic language we should all point out the effect their language is having on other people: remembering that phrases such as ‘That’s so gay’ are not harmless banter but part of wider homophobia whether the pupil appreciates this or not. This is not just an Ofsted requirement but a moral responsibility we share collectively as part of our Duty of Care.

This article has been adapted from Jonathan Charlesworth’s That’s So Gay! – Challenging Homophobic Bullying.

Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH) is the multi-award winning registered charity providing training, resources and support to affirm representations of gay and transgender people, challenge homophobia and reduce discrimination experienced because of sexual orientation or gender identity. (www.each.education)
• EACH’s National Homophobic Bullying Actionline: 0808 1000 143

Supporting young people suffering with self-harm and eating disorders – three key lessons

Pooky Knightsmith is a specialist in student mental health and emotional well-being, and author of Self-Harm and Eating Disorders in Schools. Through her company In Our Hands Ltd, Pooky works with schools, parents and organisations to promote awareness of and provide training on topics related to mental health. She is also the Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing Advisor for the PSHE Association in the UK and a trustee for Beat, the eating disorder charity. She has personal experiences of the issues she teaches and writes about, having personally overcome eating disorders and self-harm herself.
Here she shares her top tips for supporting young people suffering with self-harm and eating disorders, gathered through years of research and training.

“How on earth have you ended up doing what you do?” A colleague questioned me today “Teaching people about self-harm and eating disorders is not exactly the kind of job you dream about when you’re 14 is it?”Knightsmith

And he was right.  I didn’t dream about doing my current job when I was 14.  In fact, I didn’t dream about anything in my future when I was 14.  All I really wanted was to be dead, but I lacked the motivation to make my ‘dream’ a reality.  I was living a half-life, walking around each day in the shadows of anorexia and self-harm.  So in answer to my colleague, I suppose that I started down the path I’m currently traversing in order to try and stop other children feeling the way I felt.

Fortunately, things have moved on somewhat from my own school days.  We have a far better understanding of self-harm and eating disorders – unfortunately that’s at least in part due to a huge increase in prevalence in both conditions which has forced us to learn, fast, and taught us some difficult lessons along the way.

I feel we’re currently at the tipping point, with schools and agencies ready, willing and increasingly able to offer support to the young people who need it most.  But what are the key lessons that we should bear in mind when offering support to young people in our care?  If I had to boil down many years of research on the topic into three key learning points (and anyone who’s attended one of my training sessions will know how keen I am on having three take home points!) it would be these:

We need to enable young people to feel in control of their own recovery

A desire to take control of one aspect of their lives is a key reason young people cite for the development of self-harming and eating disordered behaviours.  Bearing this in mind, we need to ensure that in our keenness to support young people’s recovery, that we don’t take this process straight out of their control.  Contributing to their sense of lack of control is likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate their harmful behaviours.  We can help young people to feel in control of their own recovery by employing truly person-centred practice where the young person is the key initiator in recovery goals and all information and meetings are designed to be accessible to the young person concerned.

We are stronger when we work as a team

When school staff, sufferers, parents and any external agencies involved come together and work as a team to support the recovery process with unified goals; progress is both more rapid and longer lasting.  This type of team working can be difficult to implement but it reaps dividends in terms of positive impact for the young person trying to overcome their self-harming or eating disordered behaviours.

Recovery doesn’t stop when someone looks healed

Finally, we need to ensure that support doesn’t drop off the moment someone looks physically better.  When a healthy weight has been restored or cuts or burns have healed then it’s normal for support to drop away.  Tight health budgets often mean that therapeutic or psychiatric support may dwindle at this point and parents, friends and school staff can often begin to step away feeling that the worst is over.  For the young person concerned though, this can be the most difficult phase of all as they are probably still working to overcome the underlying difficulties that drove them to their unhealthy behaviours, but they no longer have these behaviours to turn to as a means of coping.  Whilst underlying issues are being resolved and new, healthy coping mechanisms are still being embedded, young people are very vulnerable to relapse.  To minimise the likelihood of relapse, we need to ensure we extend our support, care and guidance into the weeks and months following physical recovery.

Things are looking up.  More than ever I find myself welcomed with open arms when I go to teach colleagues about how best to support the young people in their care who are facing self-harm and eating disorders.  A few short years ago there would have been no market for the book I’ve spent so long researching and writing and there would be no place for my training sessions; so taboo and under-recognised were these topics.  We’re opening our eyes to the problem and our approaches are evolving fast.  I’m hopeful that soon I’ll be able to reflect that a lot less young people are feeling like I did when I was 14.

I certainly hope so.

You can download one of Pooky’s PDF handouts, which gives alternatives to self-harm suggested by former self-harmers themselves, here

Find out more about Pooky’s book Self-Harm and Eating Disorders in Schools, read reviews or order your copy here

Call for Comic and Graphic novel submissions

Jessica Kingsley Publishers and Singing Dragon (an imprint of JKP) have recently started developing an exciting new line of comics and graphics novels and we are now open for submissions.

At JKP we are committed to publishing books that make a difference. Our range of subjects includes autism, dementia, social work, art therapies, mental health, counselling, palliative care and practical theology. Have a look on www.jkp.com for our full range of titles.

Singing Dragon publishes authoritative books on all aspects of Chinese medicine, yoga therapy, aromatherapy, massage, Qigong and complementary and alternative health more generally, as well as Oriental martial arts. Find out more on www.singingdragon.com

If you have an idea that you think would work well as a graphic book, or are an artist interested in working with us, here is what we are looking for:

Graphic novel or comic – Long form

We are looking for book proposals that are between 100 and 200 pages, black and white or colour, and explore the topics listed above or another subject that would fit into the JKP/Singing Dragon list. Specifically we are hoping to develop more personal autobiographical stories.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  1. A one-page written synopsis detailing the plot/outline of the book, as well as short bios of all the creators involved.
  2. Character sketches of the main characters with descriptions.
  3. Solo artist/writers or writer and artist teams should submit 5 to 10 completed pages to allow us to get a sense of the pace, art style and writing.
  4. Solo writers will need to submit 10 to 20 pages of script as well as the one-page synopsis from point 1.

Comic – Short form

We have some shorter comic projects underway and are looking to expand the range of topics covered. These books can run from 20 to 40 pages, black and white or colour, with dimensions of 170x230mm. We are mainly looking for comics that provide ideas and information for both professionals and general readers.

For example, the first in this series, published by Singing Dragon, is a book exploring the latest developments in chronic pain research.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  1. A one-page written synopsis detailing the narrative style and subject matter to be explored in the book. Also include short bios of all the creators involved.
  2. Solo artist/writers or writer and artist teams should submit 3 to 5 completed pages to allow us to get a sense of the pace, art style and writing.
  3. Solo writers will need to submit 5 to 10 pages of script as well as the one-page synopsis from point 1.

When submitting please provide low-res images and send them, along with everything else, to Mike Medaglia at mike.medaglia@jkp.com

If you have any other ideas that don’t directly relate to the subjects described above but you feel might still fit into the JKP or Singing Dragon list, please feel free to get in touch with ideas and enquiries on the email above.

The Feelings Tree – helping children talk about emotions

The holidays are often filled with an assortment of powerful emotions, for both children and adults. This can be related to loss or upheaval in our lives, to anniversaries of significant loss, or simply because the holiday period allows time for reflection which can bring up difficult feelings for us all. So we wanted to share a free activity from the lovely Seeds of Hope Bereavement and Loss Activity Book, which aims to help children deal Jay_Seeds-of-Hope-B_978-1-84905-546-8_colourjpg-printwith loss and/or change through nature, and will be especially helpful to those finding it difficult to cope with bereavement.

The Feelings Tree is a great activity to help you get started talking to children about difficult emotions, as well as all emotions more generally. The birds in the tree can be used as starting points to bring up difficult feelings you may want to talk about, or the child you’re doing the activity with may use the opportunity to talk about emotions they don’t feel comfortable addressing head-on. However you use The Feelings Tree you’re sure to have some fun!

Download The Feelings Tree here

Read an interview with the author, Caroline Jay, on what inspired her to write the book and how contact with nature can help us deal with loss, here.

You can also find out more about the book, read reviews or order your copy here.