CHILDREN THRIVE WITH STRUCTURE & PREDICTABILITY
series: Protecting the Children by Wayne Bleier
Children need to come into a center and feel safe. How do you make a child feel safe? One you'll greet them when they come in the door. That child has to know that you're there and you care about them.
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Two, you also need a structured environment because these are children who've lost what they judge as normal. They've lost their routines, they've lost the village, they've lost maybe their neighbors, maybe even their parents. So their world is kind of upside down.
By providing structure and structured activities we help create some normalcy for them. Also we build trust because if a child can predict what's going to happen every day and what's going to happen next, they will develop trust, which is very important in getting back what you have left behind. How do you do that?
What I like doing is dividing the space into activities centers. So maybe you'd divide the space into six different activities. One would be maybe drawing, another might be drama, another might be music and another might be storytelling. Another might be games cause we do have games and then maybe you'll have one where they can do what they want. But it's very important that the child chooses what activity they want to go to and they have the support to act it out.
So when I've been doing the drawing activities, they're very therapeutic. You can see the child rights or draws what that is on their mind and over time if the center is working, the drawings will get much brighter. They'll start with the guns, the bombs, the houses burning and by the end they're drawing pictures of the child friendly space, their house in the camp, and also a positive image of their home. For me, that's very important that they don't forget where they came from and they can integrate that with the new place they're in.
It's also important that we should do our best we can to teach them in their own language. The other thing I like is having an introductory exercise where everyone is welcomed into the center. They might sing a song, you might do a physical activity, but that way they know they're coming into a new space. There's a entry activity. Then they can go into either the structured activities or you can have sports or local games outside.
But what I tried to do is have part of it as the structured activities and part of it as traditional and local games. And then the children come back and we have an exercise that might be a calming exercise or relaxation, a visualization, whatever, cause we don't want them leaving the center all hyped up because often children are very excited when they leave the center and we don't want them to go out there and get in trouble. So we do that and then we have the goodbye.
I've seen really nice times when the teachers are at the door and they say goodbye. They line the children up and they go out one by one. And I've seen that with hundreds of kids in one center and it's very nice.
Wayne is a trained child and family therapist with over 25 years of experience supervising and implementing CP programs overseas in Former -Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Rep of Congo, Indonesia, East Timor, Afghanistan, Liberia, Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Uganda, Lebanon, and Bangladesh. During this time he worked with Mike Wessells at Columbia University.
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He has worked for IRC, Save the Children UK, Child Fund International, War Child UK and UNICEF. Wayne holds an MSW degree from the University of Washington. Currently he holds the position of Child Protection Manger and Case Management Specialist for DRC's program working in the Rohingya emergency in Bangladesh.