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Taming worry dragons in Coaldale and Picture Butte

Posted on March 31, 2022 by Sunny South News

By Laura Balanko-Dickson
Sunny South News

According to Amanda Fontaine, one of the counsellors at Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) in Coaldale, this isn’t the first time they have run the Taming Worry Dragons program. The program has previously run in Taber and Raymond, and will run in Coaldale and Picture Butte from March 29 and every Tuesday after until May 3.

While Fontaine acknowledges the potential for skepticism of cognitive behavioural therapy for children with developing minds and personalities, she believes that expressive creative work is very important. “Little people don’t think of words for things necessarily all the time, they think of images,” said Fontaine, adding, “play is a child’s language and toys are their words.”

“When little people are acting things out or drawing things out, they’re processing the same information that an adult would be when talking about it,” said Fontaine, “Strictly talk therapy wouldn’t work for an eight-year-old.”

Taming Worry Dragons approaches these themes in a way that is less daunting for children and creates a positive space for creative expression. “There is art, there are games, there are creative ways of presenting cognitive behavioural therapy to kids that isn’t just sitting there and talking at them. What works for some adults doesn’t work for eight to 12-year-olds,” Fontaine explained.

She added part of the program involves giving a name and face to the child’s worries. “Anxiety is externalized. We talk about worry in fun ways by using imagination, talking about different worry dragons. So, there could be a social anxiety worry dragon that shows up. So, we use a lot of fantasy and play that way,” she explained.

“They’re learning coping strategies but it’s like sneaking vegetables into their meal,” said Fontaine. The skills taught can be applied to scenarios and people of all ages, but it is the method in which these lessons are delivered which make the experience successful for students.

“They are taught things that are high-level skills that lots of adults don’t even know,” said Fontaine, adding, “they are made more accessible through these games and through the art. It’s fun.”

While the program has run before, Fontaine says it will be a bit different this time because there will be an additional component for the caregivers of the children enrolled in the program.

“Week by week, whatever skills the children are learning with one facilitator in a separate room, the caregivers are learning that same skill with a different facilitator,” said Fontaine. “It’s not presented as, ‘Oh what kind of worry dragon is showing up?’ It’s more presented as straight facts. It helps the caregivers to actually integrate what we are teaching at home. So, they learn how to support their kid at home. They are only with us for an hour once a week, but the parents are around them much more than that.”

Fontaine said children feel “normal” after going through the program, and many expressed a sense of acceptance and that they weren’t alone in facing challenges. Fontaine said, “in the brains of these little people, they feel like they are the only ones struggling with some of these issues, and that’s just not the case right now. You know, we are seeing huge huge rates of anxiety among our young people. There’s been a real big uptick even in the last few months here. A lot of our intake has been dealing with this age range, eight to 12.”

Fontaine added she hopes by offering a format that challenges the stigma around mental illness from a really early age, children will not have to be unlearning some of the unfortunate messages about mental health in their adult years. “They like the silliness, they like the fun, they don’t necessarily know that they’re learning valuable coping skills that they will use their whole life, they’re here for a good time.”

To learn more about FCSS and the programs offered in the service area, visit FCSS.ca.

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