Can I Sit with You?

A stray dog chooses a little girl to befriend. However she is feeling & whatever she needs, he offers to sit with her & keep her company. He lets her know that wherever she goes, he is willing to walk with her, too.  They enjoy simple pleasures together, like throwing & fetching sticks. Slowly & gently, their friendship grows. When the girl wants to play with other friends, or go out & explore alone, he understands this need. He waits for her, delights in her return, & is ready to sit with her once more. This is a story of companionship, loyalty & learning to love & be loved. A cute, canine tale.

For children moving into new families, pets have potential benefits & challenges. Pets may make the transition easier. They can be a nice source of ‘contact comfort’ – stroking & holding pets & having that skin-to-fur sensation, can lessen the intensity of difficult feelings. Sometimes, children are reassured, when they see their new parents or carers being kind to pets & looking after them well. This is a ‘sign of safety’ for them, useful especially for children who are hypervigilant for danger. But some traumatised children are frightened of pets or may associate pets with previous abuse; or present a risk of cruelty themselves towards the pets.

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Moffle Hand Puppets

We have Moffled some hand puppets! We’ve labelled some emotions, given them colours & expressions & described a body sensation for each one.

Puppets can be great to use for exploring thoughts & feelings & creating stories together.  Making your own puppets means you can really personalise them –choose your own colours & shapes for emotions & write on them as many sensations or feelings as you like!

There’s a natural playfulness to picking up a puppet & using your hand & voice to magically bring it to life. Children often enjoy using puppets to talk about things, as they can help to externalise situations & create a safe distance between the child & any problem. The little characters can take ownership of the conversation & be used for playing out different scenarios & practising new behaviours or ways of being.  A lovely way to encourage problem solving & empathy, & an opportunity to create new meanings & understanding together.

Moffles Parenting!

Dan Hughes’s PACE (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity & Empathy) reminds us of the therapeutic attitude. The ‘two hands of parenting’ combine PACE-fulness with boundaries, structure & consequences – or ‘Connection with Correction’.

Here is ‘Moffles’ to help think about how to put the two hands of parenting into action, when a difficult parenting situation occurs:

M – Make it safe.

What is going on & do I need to do anything right now to keep everyone safe? Without physical safety it is very hard to create emotional safety.

O – Open up to your thoughts & feelings.

Take a quick pause & breathe. What needs to happen to ‘turn down the shark music’ (that sound in our heads of bad experiences & fears for the future) & to focus on the here & now? What do you need to stay open & engaged?

F – Focus on your child’s needs.

Do they need sensory regulation first to help them back into the thinking zone? Are they ready to reflect?  Provide comfort. ‘Think about the how’ – tone of voice & non-verbal communication is as important as what you say.

F – Figure it out together.

‘Chase the why’. Listen & look for the meaning behind the behaviour, using curiosity & empathy. Say yes to all thoughts & feelings, even when you’re saying no to the behaviour. ‘Wonder aloud’ to communicate you’re on their side.

L– Look for ways to connect.

Emergency situations call for A&E – lots of acceptance & empathy.

E – Evaluate how to respond to behaviour.

 Is PACE enough? What lesson do you want to teach? Are they ready to learn? Think natural consequences – timely, proportionate & related to the incident.

S – Soothe & repair.

What do you & your child both need to feel better? How can you communicate your relationship is strong, no matter what? Involve your child in thinking about what they can do to make it right with anybody else involved.

Paws & Breathe!

Observing the breath can be helpful for a child if they are angry, tense, or anxious. We have found that 5-finger breathing (or pawsing for breath if you are a Moffle) is a great way to help a child slow down & become more grounded & present in the moment. Ask them to calmly trace the fingers of one hand with the other hand, breathing in as they go up & out as they go down.

Encourage your child to let their breath come naturally as they do this. There is no need to try & control the speed of the breathing, or to breathe any differently to normal. Reassure them that breathing happens all by itself & we are just going to take a few breaths to notice it.

A Shelter for Sadness

A little boy builds a shelter, in which he can look after his Sadness, with all the care, empathy & acceptance that he knows it deserves. Sadness is a soft & scruffy little character, who shifts in shape & size & seems to know what it needs, if the boy looks & listens well. Sadness holds its own beating heart, which is visible, not hidden away & we see the boy treat it gently & without fear. This is a story that honours sadness & invites us to explore our relationship to it.

The beautiful illustrations show us how sadness can alter & elicit different moods, like the different seasons of the year. Whatever the season & however big or small, loud, or quiet sadness becomes, we are shown that it has a right to be there. We see that the boy can shine a light on Sadness or hide it away; visit it as often or as infrequently as feels right, & we are reminded that there will be good reasons for doing both.

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What do Moffles Need?

Here’s a colourful Moffle version of a visual I use in conversations with children about what they might need to help them to grow up healthy & happy.

In therapy, many children have told me that they were ‘not looked after properly’ by their birth parents. Often, they have heard this phrase but struggle to understand what it really means, especially if they have few conscious memories of their past. Or if they have experienced a lot of neglect & a chaotic home environment, they may have very little idea of the ‘good enough’ care that they need & deserve.  I’ve found that creating pictures together of what all children need, can make it easier to begin to explore what they may have missed out on early in life.

Sometimes, cutting out images from magazines & making collages, drawing, or building scenes in a sand tray are helpful. For some children who struggle to initiate or come up with ideas, or are very worried about getting things wrong, a pre-prepared visual like this one can help warm the context. Talking about potentially tricky things from a once removed position, in this case through the Moffle characters, can help to make it feel less challenging for them.

Another use is with children who are mistrustful & struggling to see that they are cared for now – to focus attention & as a prompt for highlighting signs of safety & nurture in their current homes. Parents or cares can share specific stories of having met their child’s needs in the different areas identified, or the child can be invited to come up with some of their own, if they are able. 

Playfulness puts the P in PACE!

Learn more about PACE & DDP at DDP Connects UK

P puts the Playfulness in PACE! It’s the part of the therapeutic parenting attitude developed by Dan Hughes, that characterises the way a parent or carer interacts with a baby or small child. That original experience of parental love, where each is delighting in the other, getting to know each other & feeling safe & relaxed.  

Playfulness is about being light, confident and engaged – looking for strengths and ways to be close & affectionate. Not a distraction technique, but a way to create positive interactions & feelings of acceptance & connectedness. A light-hearted & relaxed attitude brings opportunities to show affection when more direct expressions may be resisted by a traumatised child.

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Learn more about PACE & DDP at DDP Connects UK

PACE is an attitude that helps us connect with our children in a relational, rather than a behavioural way. It is useful whether we are parents or carers, or part of the team around the child. PACE stands for playfulness, acceptance, curiosity & empathy.  It was created by Dan Hughes, the founder of DDP & based on what goes on between a parent and very young child.  We are naturally PACE-ful with little ones. Imagine talking to a baby & the tone & language we might use. We’re animated, we chatter to them – wondering if they’re hungry, tired, happy. We connect with them emotionally as we think about their internal state, mentalising their experience.  Curiosity & empathy is at the centre of this & total acceptance of emotions & thoughts – they’re neither right nor wrong, they just are. We’re being playful & delighting in them.

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Moffle Sandtray

We’ve made a Tippy Moffle’s Mirror sandtray! Can you spot the different characters & scenes that we’ve created from the story?

For children who find it difficult to talk about their thoughts & feelings, or are unwilling to do so, making use of a sandtray can feel like a safer & easier way to communicate. Play is the child’s natural medium of communication & there is no need to verbalise – the little sandtray miniatures become their words.

Just as reading picture books together can create a level of distance from difficult subjects, that make it easier for the child to think about them, so the symbolic nature of the sand & objects can provide a gentle route into exploring experiences that might otherwise feel overwhelming. Here, using Moffles instead of human figures can add to that sense of distance & safety.

The Worrysaurus

To be fair to this little Worrysaurus, he has a point when it comes to British summertime weather & planning picnics! Putting that to one side, this is a sunshine picture book whose soothing rhymes gently explore anxiety & share coping strategies that warm the heart.

Many children with developmental trauma worry terribly about all sorts of things & struggle, as the Worrysaurus does, with uncertainty. Their parents & carers are well versed in ensuring structure, routine & predictability, to help their child to cope. All children worry, but a traumatised child’s anxiety can be especially big & overwhelming. When you have had bad, sad & scary things happen in the past & from an early age, it shapes the brain & central nervous system & processing of experiences. It sensitises to danger & preoccupies with keeping safe – even when there isn’t any danger there at all. It manifests itself in phobias & obsessive-compulsive behaviours. How important then to help a child recognise what is happening in their body – the physical manifestations of anxiety. To help them stay grounded in the present & not be pulled into the ‘trauma timehole’, responding as thought they are back in those frightening experiences again.

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