Children use their imagination to play out their experiences and achieve mastery over the experience. This ability we carry with us into our adult lives as we think about past, present or future issues. As adults we continue to do this type of work in our mind by playing out various different scenarios. We think about the situation what was said or what we might say in the future and imagine what would happen or what the other person would say. The thinking about situations tends to trigger internal emotional responses to the past, present or future interaction.

This thinking might occur in connection to the fire. Adults and children get stuck in the thinking. It is like the brain’s ability to process the experience gets jammed up. We can’t seem to shift the thinking, resolve it or have a completion to the experience.

If you find yourself or your child stuck with certain thoughts about the fire here are a few possible interventions:
+ Hold the thought in your mind while taking a deep breath and imagine blowing the thought out
+ Notice how the thought comes into your brain – is it visual (picture, movie) or do you hear it in words (a nagging critical voice)
+ Where does the thought come from in your mind – is it top, bottom, sides (where do you sense it)
+ Engage another area of your body when the though comes in and notice what happens (straighten your spine, press your feet into the ground, push with both hands against a wall)

Researchers in the field (Peter Levine, Bessel Van Der Kolk, Pat Ogden, Janina Fisher, Daniel Siegel, and many more report the importance of engaging our entire body in change. By using another part of your body you can learn to interrupt the internal thinking process that gets jammed. The other key influence to change something is to practice it over and over and over to strengthen the new neural pathways in the brain.

For Children your can try the following suggestions:
> If you are comfortable with imaginary play, then play with the child…to provide distance perhaps select animals
> Develop a story line to allow some distance for the child…Once upon a time in a far away place there was a…
> The theme is that something was threatening the animals home
> You can play out the thoughts and emotions you think your child might have experienced….children will let you know if you are correct or not…they will clearly say no and then you ask them what was ….thinking, feeling
> Leave time for the child to answer and perhaps the hardest thing for parents….let your child lead and direct the story if they are able….this provides the child with a sense of power and mastery
> You might want to involve the child’s favourite animal in the play as an external resource for the child
> If the child is unable to develop the story and seems stuck you can introduce a wise character or helpful stranger
> If the child is not able to follow this intervention, do not push the child….acknowledge that at THIS TIME it does not feel like anyone or anything can help, but SOON it will. (This will assure the child that you respect their own processing time and let them know that this will change in the future.

Just a few suggestions to help you along the way…

Sense of Safety Extinguished

On May 2nd in Fort McMurray people were about their daily business:

  • Children and teens were in classrooms
  • Adults were at work, looking for work, at Keyano College or caring at home for others
  • People had appointments or lists of chores or things to do
  • All the stores were open for business
  • There was gasoline freely available
  • It was a warm spring day with some smoke and ashes in the air
  • All and all it was a normal spring day in Fort McMurray with smoke in the air
  • Seasoned Fort McMurrities were used to smoke in the air as always there was always smoke blowing in from a fire somewhere north, south, east or west…

Twenty-four hours later life changed dramatically for everyone:

  • The smoke and ashes in the air had turned the day in to night
  • The heat of the fire was all around and it felt like you were next to a furnace
  • The radio was advising that communities around the city were being evacuated
  • Highway 63 the only road in and the only way out was at risk of being closed
  • The word Trapped flew around in my mind
  • No one was in charge and no one came forward to take charge
  • The sounds of sirens filled the air
  • There was no sense of safety in this environment, no place to go that felt safe
  • This was a life threatening situation…..this was a sense for everyone of a threat for their safety, security and survival

You and your family were exposed to an unexpected event that engaged your primal survival system.  In addition, you lost your sense of secure base (Bowby) ….your home.  Home is vitally important to our sense of safety, security and familiarity.   Your home holds the items you value  and care about. Things that are important to you and your family. Many people lost their homes in the fire….Everything.  Then there is the psychological loss of being disconnected from what was our secure base.

It seems to me that McMurrites are like a tribe without a home … The word nomad comes to mind. With so many things to deal with at once, here are a few things to consider:

  •  There is no right or wrong in how you think, feel and experience the situation.
  •  There is no right or wrong in how others think, feel and experience the situation
  • There is no competition over who felt or experienced the worst in this situation
  •  This is a time period in your life, where each day you move a little further away from the experience


  •  Try to get back into a routine or schedule even if it is only for a few minutes each day

Acknowledge  any discomforting thoughts and feelings that you have and Rate the thoughts or feelings on a scale of 1 (little) to 10 (very big).  This way you can keep track of how your thoughts and feelings are shrinking.

  • Write them down
  •  Draw them out
  •  Turn on some music and dance them out
  •  Turn on your imagination


Please let me know if you find other ways to help, I am always interested in learning from my clients and others.  I have a list of great ideas, thank you





Children’s Reactions to the fire

Each child is a unique little person and may respond with one or more of the following:

  • Whinny and clingy
  • Refuses to be apart from parent
  • Sleep difficulties, including resistance to fall asleep, stay asleep and nightmares
  • Eating routines may change, constantly hungry or refusing to eat
  • Regressed behaviour (if potty trained may soil, wet the bed, baby talk)
  • Heightened resistance to doing anything
  • Many young children talk of monsters (this is their way of telling parents they are scared)
  • Older children may be hyperviligant to sounds and slight visual distortions
  • The anxious child will ask question after question with no sense of relief to the answer
  • Children that have a high need for control will intensify these behaviours
  • Children that tend to shut down when faced with stress may show sign of depression

A few ideas on how Parents can help:

  • Model taking good care of yourself (eating, sleeping and exercise)
  • Limit the child’s exposure to information on the fire (you are their filter)
  • Acknowledge their feeling states, help them to size their feelings small medium and large
  • Let them know that you get that they are scared to be apart from you, reassure them that you are not going to leave them ( more strategies on this later)
  • If your child’s behaviour is regressed label it for them (that fire was so scary that you needed to be very little again)
  • Give your child time to answer or give them a menu (angry, scared or sad)
  • Do not deny the magical thinking of children help your child fight those monsters, be a collaborator against monsters.   Ask your child how the two of you can fight these monsters.  Put your imagination to work….monster spray away, rituals of any sort help!
  • Normalize the immediate hyper-senses of your children.  Remember this is their alerting system

For Children with temperaments that tend to be anxious, controlling or internalizers:

  • Label what you see for the anxious child… “I notice that you are asking lots of questions and the more answers you get the more questions you ask….I wonder if you are feeling, scared, …

  • Label the behaviour of the controling child.  You are trying to be the boss here…I think you do this when you are angry,…..

  • Label the behaviour of the internalizing child.   I see you are spending a lot of time doing X.  What are you thinking or feeling when you do this…..

If your child likes touch, then provide lots of cuddles and medium to deep pressure massage.

Develop a routine as soon as possible and if your child will separate from you enroll him/her in school or preschool.  Children need time to be with other children that were not exposed to the fire.  This will help their nervous systems regulate and help parent’s too!





Fire… It fired up our internal systems

The fire in Ymm has triggered our internal alarm system.  It yells loudly danger, danger.  High alert!   This is a normal primal response to an unexpected threat.  Primal responses can look like….

  • Fight – anger
  • Flight – run a way 
  • Freeze – frozen in the spot can’t move
  • Submit – tell me what to do can’t think
  • Cry for Help – call for others to help needs connection

Read the rest of this entry »

We delight in the beauty
of the butterfly
but rarely admit the changes
it has gone through
to achieve that beauty.
~ Maya Angelou

You can learn more about
a person in one hour of play
than you can in
one year of
- Plato -