Pictured above: (L to R) Child and Youth Counsellors Janine De Rosie, Susan Lytle and MaryLynn Reddon D’Arcy display the puppets—Wally, Tiny Turtle, Oscar, Dina—they use to teach kids in the Dinosaur Social Skills Program.
By Patrick Callan, Communications Coordinator
Wally, Tiny Turtle, Oscar and Dina have been four of CAMH’s best kept secrets for years—until today.
This adorable puppet quartet is the centerpiece of the Dinosaur Social Skills Program for children six- to eight-years-old who demonstrate challenging behaviors, including non-compliance to adult requests, disruptive or aggressive behaviour, and social behaviour difficulties.
The group program, which started in 2002, takes place three times per week over a 15-week period. It teaches children positive communication skills, as well as problem-solving and emotion management and regulation. It also promotes self-esteem and positive social skills.
“We use the puppets to help facilitate and teach the material,” says Janine De Rosie, Child and Youth Counsellor. “Wally sits on my lap, we act out a problem, and then the little hands go up and they say, ‘I have that problem too,’’ and they talk to Wally like he’s real. It’s incredible to see how it normalizes things and how the kids feel comfortable taking the risk to share their problem—it’s fascinating to watch.”
They also watch vignettes of children making good and not-so-good choices and then do some problem solving around that. Class concludes with playtime so they can practice some of the skills they’ve been taught.
At the same time as children are learning new skills so are their parents in the companion Incredible Years Parenting Program, adds MaryLynn Reddon-D’Arcy, Child and Youth Counsellor.
“They’re learning some positive parenting skills like how to effectively praise your children, social and emotional persistence coaching, and then we move more into discipline strategy,” says MaryLynn about the program, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. “We talk a lot about setting limits and rules and routines.”
In addition, there’s another 15-week companion program with similar curriculum for children aged nine to 12: The Coping Power Child Program and The Coping Power Parent Program. Both have been around for seven years.
“The core piece with the older kids is goal setting,” says Susan Lytle, Child and Youth Counsellor, adding puppets are not used with this age group. “There’s also a lot more coaching and some activities are designed to promote distress, so they have to use the skills they’ve learned in a practice session. We really try to help them figure out what a problem is and think about things they need to work on.”
Like many of CAMH’s programs, the first step to be eligible for the children’s programs is a referral from a family doctor. Afterwards, the children are brought in for an assessment.
“We look at research and clinical measures to determine whether group or individual therapy would be the best match for treatment,” explains Janine.