Seven-year-old Taylor from Paris, Ontario, was excited about going on the Sunshine DreamLift London 2018, but she was filled with fears. Her mom, Kelley, recalls: “When we first received the email about the DreamLift, we initially said, ‘No’. As parents, we just didn’t think Taylor could handle it. It seemed like a huge undertaking for her – and for us.”
Social worker and child and family therapist, Kathy Roberts, nods in understanding. She is a specialist in dealing with anxiety issues, and Kelley’s story is familiar ground.
In preparing for a significant new experience like a Sunshine DreamLift, Kathy helps the child think things through. “My goal is not to make their anxiety go away, but to give them the tools to manage it.”
Whatever the source of anxiety - being separated from a parent for the first time, being unsure about things like using a bathroom on their own, or needing reassurance that someone who really understands the child’s unique medical needs will be there to help – it is important to talk it through with the child and problem-solve together.
Kathy remembers: “For some kids on the plane, it was not always a comfortable [situation]. But I could hear the wonderful Sunshine volunteers right there with each of them, expressing confidence and reassurance, saying, “‘You are doing a wonderful job, and I’m here to help you through this.” These volunteers were using the same techniques I use to help kids cope. I could tell that everyone who was there knew exactly what to do. It was amazing.”
Kathy is a big believer in teamwork. As she explains, “We can’t do this work alone. It takes a village, and we each have a piece of that.”
Kelley agrees. It made such a difference that, prior to the Sunshine DreamLift, Taylor’s EA at school started to show her photos of Disney. Then Sunshine arranged for Taylor and her parents to meet her DreamLift volunteers ahead of time. Kelley says, “I got to explain to them what Taylor likes and doesn’t like. And Sunshine sensitively matched Taylor with a child who also doesn’t like rides. It made such a difference. They were really happy together.”
Kelley appreciated how, throughout DreamLift Day, “Taylor’s volunteers kept texting me pictures and sending me notes from Disney. I could see Taylor was having a great time, and I felt like I was there with them.”
Kathy says, “An opportunity like a Sunshine DreamLift is a stepping stone for that child to have independence in their life. When an anxious child returns home from the Sunshine DreamLift, they are on Cloud Nine. Home is still home for them, but their worldview has shifted. Witnessing their child going on that Sunshine DreamLift and having a successful experience is huge for the parent as well as for the child. It’s a big shift - for the whole family.”
Kelley agrees. “It was so great to see how joyful Taylor was when she came home. And now, when our friends ask her, “Did you really go to Disney?” she says ‘YES!!!’ with a big smile on her face. As parents, we are so happy that – with the help of Sunshine and their supporters - we made that happen for her.”
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