Critical training to better protect, support, and heal vulnerable children


series: CAREGIVER 101 by Steve Gross


You know, building an Oplasis and sustaining an Oplasis in an environment where it is lots of uncertainty and transition isn't always easy. So I want to be really clear for the folks who are out there in the camps doing this work, this is some of the most grueling and difficult work that you can possibly do. But it is also some of the most important work that you can do. The people here working with children in these camps, you, all those folks are the protectors of civilization.

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How we care for our youngest, most vulnerable citizens, especially when they're in times of great stress and need will deeply impact how far we evolve as human beings. So the first thing, one is it can we find a sacred space? Can you find a place that you say, Hey, this is going to be our Oplasis.

And I think having some consistency of a space and making sure that that space is accessible on a consistent basis is really important. And I also think when we look at the Oplasis, we are looking at it in terms of environment, activities and interactions. So is the space, is the environment conducive? Does it feel safe, as it is glass and nails and stuff on the ground? Or that would create an unsafe environment. So we want to make sure the physical environment feels like an Oplasis, in addition things that we do in that space are they also safe, joyful, engaging, connecting activities.

But then also the most core level, our interactions with children are always empowering, joyful, loving, validating. That we actually see children? it's really important to respect children. To respect the child means to re-spect them, to see them again. And so making sure we are seeing value in children. Getting down on their level, giving them choices, asking them what they like, what they don't like, looking for their suggestions, having them help you set things up.

Children want to feel this sense of agency and power. And so the more we respect them and empower them and include them in this, creating this Oplasis, the better. And we can also tell children, we can be really transparent. Let them know you deserve an Oplasis. We need to do stuff to make sure that this space feels safe and joyful and connecting and that it's fun and engaging for you and can you partner with us to build this Oplasis? And if kids are breaking the ground rules, if they're struggling with each other, if they're fighting, to call them together and say, hey everybody, what are our rules for an Oplasis?

Does this feel safe when we're insulting each other, when we're pushing each other? We have to protect the Oplasis because you deserve to have one. And again, that feeling, kids need to feel that they are powerful and they are valuable.

Oftentimes kids who've had a lot of trauma and they're displaced and they're in camps, they feel invisible and every child needs to feel of value and special. That's what we do as parents. We want our kids to feel special and so we look at our kids and none of our kids are a one in a million. one in a million just means there's eight people just like you in New York City alone. Every kid in that camp is a one and seven point something billion. They are a complete original and sort of see a child, and to see them as a work of art, a work in progress and a complete original.

By seeing them that way, it allows us to honor them and value them. And when children are struggling or when their behaviors are hard for us and we're reacting to their behaviors, we remember, or we think that, we're not asking ourselves what's wrong with this kid, but instead thinking about what happened to this kid? What has this child gone through that's contributed to them feeling so angry, feeling so volatile or feeling so withdrawn?

I think it's a really important piece for playmakers to be thinking about the experiences and learning about the experiences of the children in the camps so they can better understand them and not just make assumptions that, hey, this kid's a good kid, this kid's a bad kid, this kid's gets in fights all the time.


Steve Gross

Steve Gross, M.S.W., is the founder and chief playmaker of the Life is Good Kids Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to spread the power of optimism to help kids heal. The foundation partners with leading childcare organizations to strengthen theircapacity to build healing,...

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life-changing relationships with the children in their care.

Steve’s teachings have been utilized across the country and throughout the world in response to the social and emotional needs of communities deeply impacted by poverty, violence and illness. Steve helps others discover their own sense of optimism so that they can inspire the people around them to focus on the good and overcome life’s most difficult challenges.


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