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July 21, 2017
A group of Northwest Missouri State University students on Wednesday and Thursday put their skills into practice during a day camp aimed at helping children better cope with grief and loss.
More than a dozen Northwest students worked throughout the academic year to develop resources and collect research supporting the camp as an effective tool for helping children cope with grief. Elizabeth Dimmitt, a senior instructor of psychology at Northwest, began organizing the camp last year after noticing a local need to assist grieving children and a gap in community resources available to meet the need.
This summer, students enrolled in Dimmitt’s course, Psychology of Childhood Grief and Loss, applied the skills they learned by mentoring children participating in the camp.
“I’m very impressed,” Dimmitt said. “They’ve had three weeks of class and they’ve studied everything from theories of grief and loss to culture of loss to interventions and active listening.”
Eight children between the ages of 5 and 7 participated in the one-day camp experience on Wednesday, and 10 more participated in a second day designated for middle school and high school aged children on Thursday.
They arrived with emotions resulting from the losses of siblings, grandparents and animals or parents divorcing.
Students and children released balloons with letters written to loved ones during a Camp Cope on Wednesday afternoon.
The mentors’ role was to guide the campers through activities while allowing them to talk through their emotions – and having fun. The children participated in a yoga activity based on the movie “Inside Out” to help them handle fear and anger without being hurtful. They created masks, memory boxes and glitter jars to help them better understand their feelings. They played games of tag, sang camp songs and happily tossed water balloons at each other.
“They open up about the things they wanted to open up about, and we got to practice some of the things we learned in class,” Alexus Yoakum, a senior psychology major and family and child studies minor from Excelsior Springs, Missouri, said. “I’m really glad I got this opportunity. This is something I want to do in the future so it gave me an outlook of the path I’m trying to go down.”
By attending the camp, Dimmitt and the mentors hoped, the children established friendships and a sense of belonging among kids who were working to deal with similar emotions and experiences. The camp also provided educational resources for parents and caregivers.
Alex Turpin, a senior psychology major from Grain Valley, experienced losses of her own as a child and struggled with finding ways to express the emotions stemming from those losses. When she learned of Dimmitt’s plans for the camp, Turpin was eager to participate as a mentor.
“We’re so quick to jump in and say, ‘Well this is what you can do. This is how you can get better,’” Turpin said. “We just have to listen to what these kids have to say and they’ll tell you.”
While most of the Northwest students who assisted with the camp are seeking employment in the guidance counseling, social work and community service fields, Dimmitt said the skills they practiced during the camp will help them beyond their careers. In addition to practicing active listening skills, the students learned group strategies and mentoring. They completed lesson plans and created personalized journals for the campers.
“This prepares them for life,” Dimmitt said. “It’s ‘how do I have a relationship with other people without trying to fix them to make their problems go away’ because a lot of times with grief we try to cover it up. We give them a tissue and say, ‘Let’s move on,’ and this says, ‘It’s ok.’”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468