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Guest Writer: Claire LaPoma, Sharing on the Power of a Tool to Ease Worries

September 12, 2018

Guest Writer: Claire LaPoma, Sharing on the Power of a Tool to Ease Worries

Claire and Slumberkins Co-founder Kelly Oriard met in graduate school while both studying for their masters in MCF. After graduating, they worked together at the same school collaborating and consulting one another on a number of cases. Claire and Kelly hold many of the same positions when it comes to working with children and families and continue to consult with one another within a consultation group.

*   *   *   *

A few years back when I was working as a school-based mental health therapist at a large PK-8 school in Portland, OR, I received a welcomed gift from a young client of mine, Dario*. Small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, the token from Dario’s home country filled my heart with gladness: itty-bitty worry dolls, complete with a colorfully painted box to rest in. He explained in Spanish that they are used by children as a tool to help with tough feelings that arise. The belief is that by whispering a fear, doubt, worry or sorrow into the box and placing it under your pillow before going to sleep, your emotions will be softened by morning.

Dario had brought his worry dolls with him as he journeyed north into the United States. They’d comforted him in the detention center, reminding him of home as well as providing a safe outlet for emotional expression while far from his family. He told me that when he felt lonely, he could reach into his pocket and touch a small doll, remembering fondly how he and his grandmother would make them to sell in the market. Within these tiny inanimate objects lay a connection to dear memories of home, identity and family. They also represented people important in Dario’s life that were no longer present, and he imagined conversations with his loving grandmother as he whispered to them each night.

These tiny-but-powerful dolls invite children to speak their feelings aloud, a process that Dr. Dan Siegel calls “naming to tame”. In putting feelings into words and naming our emotional experience, we are able to connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain, sending calming hormone signals to our minds and bodies. Ways to do this include:

  • Noticing and acknowledging the feelings of our children — “You seem frustrated. Breathe with me. You are safe.”
  • Exploring our physical responses to emotions — “Where in your body does your scared live? How do you know when it’s there? What do you notice?”
  • Modeling by using “I statements” to directly name our feelings — “I feel frustrated when you throw your hard toys.”

In Spanish, worry dolls are called Muñeca Quitapena, literally meaning “doll who takes away pain.” When I first learned this, I noticed an instinctive thought arise: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if my daughter never had to experience emotional distress and I could just take it away, poof, abracadabra? One of the hardest things by far about being a parent is seeing our children in pain and we could instantly ease it. Seeing them sad, hurt, or at the will of an overpowering feeling like anger or anxiety triggers great discomfort in most parents and causes us to spring into action and employ our favorite “fix it” response.

The truth is, we humans are feeling machines. It’s not realistic to protect our children from emotional pain, or take it away for them. In fact, our attempts to do so may be sending a message that whatever feeling they are experiencing in that moment needs to shift, doesn’t belong or is just plain “wrong”. Maybe we minimize, distract, dismiss, rescue, or punish with the hope that the emotional upset will be short-lived. We may celebrate and encourage positive emotions, while suppressing negative expression of emotions or viewing it as a problem to be solved.  

The worry doll’s real gift, much like Slumberkins’ Alpaca and its associated story book, is opening an opportunity for children to express what is on their minds, without the fear that they will be met with discomfort, punishment or rescuing. Children are incredibly skilled self-healers, which means they often release emotions spontaneously and authentically when given the opportunity (even during less-than-opportune moments, like in a quiet library because another child grabbed a desired book first).

The goal in these moments is to welcome all feelings by acting as a safe container for our children. They need us to help carry the load of their strong feelings through the act of co-regulation, an essential ingredient on the road to developing self-regulation skills as a their brains mature. By acting as a safe, consistent and calm base when our children are upset, we send the message:

  • You are not alone
  • You are safe
  • I can handle your emotional expression
  • We will get through this together
  • Every one of your feelings is perfect just the way it is
  • I’ve been there. These feelings are an opportunity for learning and growth

This doesn’t mean condoning the challenging behaviors that sometime accompany big feelings, but rather, remaining calm and acknowledging the feeling behind the behavior while holding our clear limit. “You are angry, but you still cannot hit.”

Over time, the act of co-regulating our children by using our own self-regulation skills to stay present with them from a place of non-reactivity will become internalized. We want to be the faces our children imagine when we are not nearby to support them in the moment. A special object like the Alpaca Snuggler can represent a child’s loved one, just as the worry dolls reminded Dario of his grandmother, and trigger memories of positive experiences in which they felt seen, heard, and accepted when distressed. The Alpaca board book is the perfect way to introduce this skill to your children, guiding them through sharing their emotions with the Snuggler. Slowly as they grow, children will build an internal community of trusting adults that have helped to hold their emotional ups and downs and proven that they will, in fact, get through them.  

*Name changed to protect identity.

Claire LaPoma holds a Master’s of Science in Marital, Couple and Family Therapy and is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She has a private therapy practice in Bend, Oregon, specializing in children, adolescents and families. www.ClaireLaPoma.com.



66 Responses

Lisa B
Lisa B

September 14, 2018

Love this! Can’t wait for my little one to soon snuggle up with one!❤️👶🏼

Hannah Spence
Hannah Spence

September 14, 2018

THIS! ♥️ I am also a mental health therapist and worked in school-based therapy before my maternity leave. It is absolutely gut wrenching the amount of children that do not feel comfortable expressing emotions or even know how to describe how they feel. Some are this way because of family or friends mocking them or neglecting their emotional needs; or they had no support system to begin with. It is important that kids have an “outlet” or something they can count on to receive relief from life’s challenges. Stress can do a number on a child and life only gets more stressful. We have to reach these kids now! It would be awesome to get these books in small, paperback versions to give to kids that we come in contact with, that may never hear the messages that these wonderful animals hold! We, as adults, have a HUGE impact on all of these children and can be an EXAMPLE of how to handle stress and emotions. It is so important because these children model our behavior. Let’s be a example and teach these children coping skills so they are able to thrive and accomplish their dreams! I feel so motivated after reading this amazing post! ♥️ Much love

Katelyn
Katelyn

September 13, 2018

As a mom, from a super young age we’ve tried to grow the awareness and give a voice to our babies, toddlers, and now kindergarten’s feelings. It can be daunting work. Emotions are so powerful, and can feel scary to express. Sometimes words can feel limiting. I LOVE the sentiment and history behind slimberkins. I had no idea. I’ve admired them for a while now. Now I’m all emotionally attached to them 😂 all of them. What a beautiful message. Anything that encourages safe and free expression and love is ❤️ In my book.

Lauren
Lauren

September 13, 2018

Love this!!!

Hannah Dahl
Hannah Dahl

September 13, 2018

What a great post! I specifically appreciate the idea of co-regulation and the transition to self regulation. I will be implementing some of this suggestions with my son.

Mandy Sweetland
Mandy Sweetland

September 13, 2018

This is such a great post!! So many great tips that I will definitely be using with my kiddos! Sometimes I forgot how big their emotions really are.

Ashley
Ashley

September 13, 2018

I needed to read this today! My three year old has been having big emotions lately, and it’s so hard to remember to tell her that her feelings are okay!

Kelsie
Kelsie

September 13, 2018

Great post! Different cultures have so much to offer, it’s great to see connections between them. At the start of the school year I saw so many posts about anxious kids having trouble with school starting, I think this would be a great help for that!

Carrie
Carrie

September 13, 2018

What an important thing to teach our children!

Shannon Ellerby
Shannon Ellerby

September 13, 2018

I absolutely love this! My daughter struggles with night terrors and helping her verbalize her fears is so important ❤

Kyleen J
Kyleen J

September 13, 2018

I love this. Such a great tool to help teach and comfort. I also love the story about the little boy and his comfort doll.

Heather P
Heather P

September 13, 2018

The idea of acknowledging feelings and creating a safe space for them instead of responding in a way that seems dismissive or minimizing really resonated with me!

J Conklin
J Conklin

September 13, 2018

“Name to tame” I think that concept is under used and really want to dig into that more!

Sabrina
Sabrina

September 13, 2018

Amazing read! It’s so important to help children find outlets for coping skills in their rapidly growing and changing lives!

Karen
Karen

September 13, 2018

These are such important skills to teach children. I have noticed a change in my child when we started using these tools. Less meltdowns more cuddles.

Demi Matherne
Demi Matherne

September 13, 2018

This is something every parent should read! Supporting your child is one of the most important things you can do as a parent, in my opinion. I love the information presented in this post! My daughter recently chose a stuffed alpaca from the zoo as a souvenir… but these are much cuter :) love the idea behind Dario’s dolls!

Kaylie Boas
Kaylie Boas

September 13, 2018

Loved this so much. I love the idea of naming feelings to help your child express. I wrote down some of the question suggestions to ask my girls in the future in order to help them identify what they are feeling and how and why they are feeling that way. I love the idea of using the Alpaca as a worry doll and being able to use it as a doorway to expressing themselves and knowing it’s okay to feel that way but that there’s also ways to work through that feeling. Very well said! ❤️

Katherine C
Katherine C

September 13, 2018

Such a wonderful read!! I had to share this with my friends. I use to have worry dolls as a child, can’t wait to gift these to my daughter! ❤️ Buying them as Christmas presents plus educating others on these issues. ;) thank you so much!

Shaylee Hardman
Shaylee Hardman

September 13, 2018

Love this message. I’ve been on fence about getting my child something like this but I forget about all the things they may be feeling that I don’t realize yet.

Lindsey
Lindsey

September 13, 2018

Great ideas! Thank you for sharing!

Ashley
Ashley

September 13, 2018

Wow! Such a powerful message that hit home with me. I grew up in a family where you did not talk about your emotions and today that has caused me to suffer with anxiety and depression. I love that Slumberkins encourage children (and parents) to talk about their feelings at an early age. I can’t help but think that this same principal goes for adults and that instead of bottling up our emotions and worrying, we should talk more and pray more.

Ann
Ann

September 13, 2018

I’m glad I read this article as my own child is becoming toddler age, emotions are developing and we as parents need to know how to best nurture that growth. This article provides good strategies and reminders!

Kelly H
Kelly H

September 13, 2018

I’m glad I read this before especially with my son just reaching toddler age! This is wonderfully written!

Suzanne
Suzanne

September 13, 2018

I had never thought about how much my son’s stuffed animals mean to him. My husband and I were just talking about how we would do anything to prevent our little guy from having sadness, pain, fear, etc… obviously, we can’t prevent that 100%, but its nice to know he has a fuzzy friendo that can handle the spontaneous emotions when the bad stuff does happen… or the good stuff. A confidant is a confidant through good and bad I suppose!

Ashley Y
Ashley Y

September 13, 2018

Great post! I love the idea of putting into words and naming feelings. I think it’s important to learn how to understand our feelings and to develop those self regulating skills.

Sarah
Sarah

September 13, 2018

Such a great post! Sometimes things seem so obvious but it takes reading someone else’s words for them to really come to light. Looking forward to helping my one year old daughter deal with the years and feelings ahead in a healthy, productive way.

Meredith Beebe
Meredith Beebe

September 13, 2018

Giving children an outlet to express their worries and concerns is so beneficial to their development! Love how the alpaca represents this!

Tonya Renoud
Tonya Renoud

September 12, 2018

Beautifully written! I never saw the connection between a worry doll and slumberkins but man it make so much sense. I had a worry doll growing up, it wasn’t something I was terribly attached to (it wasn’t very cuddly) but it did help, I talked to it when I was scared, told it things I thought i couldn’t tell anyone..it was such a comfort in those times. So of course it makes sense that as an adult I have so much love for slumberkins, and want to provide my kids with the security and comfort that I was given when I was little, thank you for writing this, and sharing.

Kyle
Kyle

September 12, 2018

I love the idea of using the alpaca as a worry doll. I feel like anger and fear can be such a difficult thing to help your child process in a healthy way. I agree that it is hard to watch your child struggle through those emotions and in trying to protect them from being emotionally hurt we perhaps shield them too much. So to have a healthy outlet where they can share these emotions is amazing!

Marion
Marion

September 12, 2018

That blogpost was amazing. I am myself a very stressed person, and when reading the beginning of the post, I couldn’t help but smile, for I have some of these tiny worry dolls.
I find stress really difficult to live with, and am working on it everyday. Your blogpost is really great! I might need an alpaca to help me deal stressful situations 😂.
Thank you so much for your amazing work!

Robyn
Robyn

September 12, 2018

Great post. It’s so true that we need to practise self regulation and model it for our children. They learn from us. I can’t wait to get our first slumberkin!

Sara Stites
Sara Stites

September 12, 2018

Wow! Great read. I am going to take away all of those suggestions and use them with my kiddos. I have 4 girls and struggle with one of them and her emotions. Thank you!

Shawna Hehr
Shawna Hehr

September 12, 2018

This is such a poignant blog post. My oldest has emotions that are sometimes bigger than life and as she learns to regulate them in a healthy way when are very careful to allow her to know that the emotion is important and even necessary at times. It’s through this expression we need to make sure we regulate ourselves only in our expression of that emotion itself. She is embarking on her teenage years and I hope she will always know I as well as her father are here to help navigate these feelings. I was immediately drawn to Copper due to the color matching my child’s hair and her love of the creatures the book and intent behind the character makes it even a better fit and I know she will love it.

Baleigh Massey
Baleigh Massey

September 12, 2018

Such a great read! Slumberkins are so much more than “just loveys.” We hold them near & dear to our hearts at our house.

Ashley Connelly
Ashley Connelly

September 12, 2018

I love this story you shared. I hope that as my 10 month old continues to grow and learn he can lean on me and husband and enjoy the lessons from our beloved Slumberkins. We as parents have this amazing opportunity to nourish parts of another human that go overlooked in the hustle and bustle, I love that we can slow down in our day and read our intention books and snuggle our creatures. An outlet that is so simple, yet missed by many.

Thank you for the beautiful story.

Krysten E.
Krysten E.

September 12, 2018

It’s so important to remember that children have feelings and emotions just as we do as adults, they just don’t know how to handle certain emotions. I as a mom even forget at times I if my daughter cries and gets upset or angry that she isn’t doing it to embarrass me or be bad, she can feel a certain way and I just need to be there to help her get through whatever it is. Even something sillily like dropping her baby doll. I know you are sad you dropped your dolly, come give me a hug and we can go pick up the dolly and try again.

Amanda Wevers
Amanda Wevers

September 12, 2018

I think talking through feelings is great, and fear/anxiety is a big one. We started a feeling journal last summer “what’s one feeling you had today?” And it has developed my daughters to be able to verbalize feelings as well as verbalize why they have that feelings. Great post!

Mia
Mia

September 12, 2018

I love this! I used to have worry dolls when I was little!

dayboom
dayboom

September 12, 2018

I wasn’t aware of the slumberkin backstory but adored how cute and cuddly each creature was. I was intrigued just by their cuteness. After reading this and getting a better understanding of the slumberkins purpose really has my attention. I love the idea behind the creation of the slumberkin. Very touching.

Jackie Basista
Jackie Basista

September 12, 2018

This is such an amazing idea! Coming from someone with anxiety and anxiety prone children, I feel this will give an amazing comfort effect.

dayboom
dayboom

September 12, 2018

I wasn’t aware of the slumberkin backstory but adored how cute and cuddly each creature was. I was intrigued just by their cuteness. After reading this and getting a better understanding of the slumberkins purpose really has my attention. I love the idea behind the creation of the slumberkin. Very touching.

Abi Fasciano
Abi Fasciano

September 12, 2018

I love this idea. A lovie has such a calming effect on a child! I love that it is such a strong part of this culture. We could use more of that understanding in our own country.

Stephanie k
Stephanie k

September 12, 2018

This is amazing ! I have never heard of worry dolls but now I want go do this with my kids ! This was a great read, thanks ! 💓

Annie D.
Annie D.

September 12, 2018

This is a great blog post for me. We just sent our oldest to Kindergarten and we are having a hard time trying to figure out all of the emotions that she’s dealing with!!! We just ordered the Alpaca. I can’t wait to read the story and start working on sharing what is on our minds. =)

Christina
Christina

September 12, 2018

Great post! As my children grow I realize how important emotional health is and dealing with feelings. Thank you for good insight and tips!

Brittany O
Brittany O

September 12, 2018

Love this! The phrase, “We will get through this together,” is a big one used in my family!

Allison searcy
Allison searcy

September 12, 2018

I love the idea behind this slumberkin and look forward to learning about the coping strategies in this book. One of my kids especially has a really had time dealing with extreme reactions to stress and honestly I’m sure we as parents aren’t responding correctly. The points in this blog hopefully will help me to remember to be calm to show her a safe environment so she can learn to self regulate. Seriously love you message of teaching kid self care. So important nowadays!!

Erin Berry
Erin Berry

September 12, 2018

I love this so much! Thank you for sharing!!

Nikki Benjamin
Nikki Benjamin

September 12, 2018

I couldn’t agree more. I have always been a big believer in giving my children comfort items. And I have loved watching my daughter’s bond with her “gigi”, who happens to be a giraffe, as she has grown. When she is upset, angry or feeling shy she talks to him and keeps him close. So I cannot wait to get our hands on the Alpacas we ordered and start reading the amazing affirmations.
Thank you slumberkins!

Kelly Kennie
Kelly Kennie

September 12, 2018

Talk about big feelings! This hit me right in all of them! My daughter has a huge heart and also has autism so she feels everything BIG, AMPLIFIED and FAST but she doesn’t have the language to talk through it. On top of that this is her first week in kindergarten! Unfortunately I feel I am failing her with dealing with my own emotions because I am in the black hole of postpartum depression. I find myself using the slumberkins affirmations to help.

Tamara
Tamara

September 12, 2018

What a great article/story! I didn’t have any worry dolls until recently, and I never knew about even until then. Even as an adult, worry dolls help me. Growing up, I never had worry dolls, but I had snuggly, soft dolls that really helped with anxiety.

Natalie
Natalie

September 12, 2018

Wow did this hit home! I needed to hear every word of this post. I’ve been a SAHM for almost 4 years and there are days (especially lately) when my 2 and almost 4 year old can drive me bonkers. I need to work more on my calm so they can try and work on theirs. I’m going to apply this more to our daily lives 💛

Melinda Casas
Melinda Casas

September 12, 2018

Love this. Such a neat story. Thanks for sharing!

Rayanne Valdivia
Rayanne Valdivia

September 12, 2018

Loved reading this as it was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s so easy to be frustrated as a parent and this reminds me if I have difficult days yet can communicate, verbalize and share my feelings — it must be so difficult for my 19 month old when he is unable to say or understand exactly what he is feeling or share his thoughts.

Thank you for sharing! Our Slumberkins collection continues to grow. 💛

Danielle
Danielle

September 12, 2018

Love this! I always talked to my barbies and dolls to help me when I was younger. As a new mom it is important to me as my daughter gets older to teach her she can always come to me for help. And as a parent it is always important to me to communicate with my child to make sure she is the best person she can be. I love this story!

Tiffany
Tiffany

September 12, 2018

What a wonderful story and great way of learning.

Kristyna
Kristyna

September 12, 2018

So swwet! I love the meaning behind every single Slumberkins. So important for children to grow up with something to feel safe with. Love this!

Brooke Evans
Brooke Evans

September 12, 2018

This blog honestly gave me chills while reading. As an adult, I don’t always realize that my children have emotions built up that they don’t understand how to express. We bought my son the hammerhead Slumberkins, and read to all the children. I hope to collect them all and to be able to, as a parent, teach them to channel their feelings and how to express them. ❤️

Marie-Eve Legault
Marie-Eve Legault

September 12, 2018

My dad gave me a box of those little worry dolls when I was little and I use to keep them under my pillow to keep them close in case I needed them. I still carry one in my wallet to this day

Ashley
Ashley

September 12, 2018

I can picture this sweet boy talking to his worry doll. I have a 4 year old son that speaks to his stuffies nearly every day. Such a wonderful lesson to teach to my son. We already have 4 slumberkins and can’t wait to incorporate alpaca into the group. Thanks so much for sharing such a wonderful message.

Stephanie
Stephanie

September 12, 2018

My mother gave me worry dolls when I was young. I think it’s so important to help kids express their feelings in a safe and positive way, while also helping them relieve whatever may be stressing them.

Morgan Harrington
Morgan Harrington

September 12, 2018

I had worry dolls as a child and absolutely loved them. I would tuck them under my pillow at night to take away my worries so I could sleep. Now with children of my own, I want them to know that I am here with them, through all battles. That co regulation is key to helping children learn and understand self regulation — even through the use of perfect tiny dolls.

Rachel McDaniel
Rachel McDaniel

September 12, 2018

This is so amazing. It made me realize that I have beent aching my daughter that negative emotions are wrong, when instead I should be showing her how she can still have those emotions just how to deal with them. Maybe the alpaca is for her <3

Destanee Herr
Destanee Herr

September 12, 2018

All of these affirmations are such great reminders for kids and even us as adults! We are not alone.

Kristy Launder
Kristy Launder

September 12, 2018

This is beautiful. I have never heard of worry dolls before, but what a great thing for children to have, as well as the Alpaca. It’s important for children to have a way to communicate their stress and feelings in an age appropriate way. I wish I would have had something like that as a child growing up. It seems like a very helpful tool for children to let out their feelings without shame or embarrassment. I absolutely love the meaning behind this and will be teaching this to my children. Thank you for sharing this story!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

September 12, 2018

I can just imagine him whispering to those little dolls! So cute! When I was little I often talked to my stuffed animals when I was upset and I want my daughter to feel safe with hers as well! Love this!

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