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Teaching Students How to Make Their Emotions Work For Them

An Update on our School Based Program “Taming the Dragon”

A new connection with Cambridge & North Dumfries Community Foundation enabled us to connect with Waterloo Region District School Board and, in turn, a number of elementary schools in Cambridge.  We now offer anxiety groups to students in potentially sixteen different schools for 2017/2018.

An Interview with Paula Shepard, MSW, RSW, Program Facilitator

  • Can you give a brief overview of “Taming the Dragon”?

Taming the Dragon is a six week program offered to public elementary schools in partnership with the Waterloo Region District School Board.  This program focuses on working with children to understand what anxiety is while introducing and practicing various communication and coping skills. A number of activities are also art-based and give children the freedom to personalize their experience and the activity at hand. 

  • What drew you to take on the role as lead group leader for this program?

I was interested as I have had many years of group facilitation in various group settings as well as narrative therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy, which are weaved into the program.  I also enjoy the amount of creativity planning the program and within the group sessions.  I also love that the children also get many opportunities to be creative and help collaborate how activities are completed. 

  • Why do you think reaching kids at a young age is so important when it comes to emotional and mental health?

We all need a reminder that we have quite a variety of emotions that we can feel.  There are no good or bad emotions.  When we discuss the idea of worry and anxiety in the group, children are often relieved to understand that they are not alone and that these emotions serve a purpose.  Although anxiety can feel like a BIG emotion that may be hard to understand at times, we can learn to become aware of it and sit with it, without being engulfed with fear.  The earlier we can have these conversations and teach children communication and coping skills, the easier it becomes to share with others, ask for help when needed and to work with their families to feel more empowered and confident in themselves as they move through life. 

  •  How have you enhanced or modified the program to adapt to the latest research and most effective interventions for children?

The program will be incorporating more mindfulness techniques.  The previous curriculum had a session that provided samples of mindfulness and calming activities, which children have really enjoyed.  I plan to build on this by introducing and having the children practice mindfulness as a part of the regularly scheduled programming for each session given the wealth of research on the tremendous benefits of mindfulness.

  • Given everyone’s experience is different and there are many factors that determine how much progress someone can make in individual or group counselling, what are some positive impacts you have observed or have heard about with regards to students who participated in the program?

I have witnessed many amazing children really own the program and start to feel empowered in their ability to understand and work with their anxiety, rather than against it.  Children have shared stories of great accomplishments, facing fears and supporting their peers when experiencing anxiety.  Many children have shown an interest in returning to the program and/or a next steps program. 

  • What is your vision for the program and how can our local community help make this possible?

There are many directions that this program can and hopefully will continue to grow including getting information, support and resources to parents/caregivers and having some interaction with them.  Involving and informing the schools has also really added to the success of the program!  “Taming the Dragon” would not be where it is today if the amazing staff and schools weren’t supporting and embracing the group and the children involved. 

Nicole, Sep 2017








Published inAnxietyChildrenCounselling

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