Looking Through the Eyes of Poffer
YouthThink was thrilled to be the pilot community for the official unveiling of the Pocket Full of Feelings Emotional Literacy Tool Kit two years ago. I knew from the first introduction of the kit that it had great potential but I did not fully realize the impact that it would have on my life, personally and professionally.
We loved the idea of Poffer the wise owl, and wanted to help him come to life. Of course, full disclosure, my dream job was always to be Mickey Mouse at Disney Land. I couldn’t wait to be Poffer. As soon as you put on the oversize and head and giant orange feet you become a mythical creature. There is just something about being in costume, especially a giant blue owl whose sole purpose in life is to help people.
Things I would never do in public (dance, walk up to perfect strangers and pat them on the head) were expected behaviors. You can really get away with a lot being Poffer, but with any great power also comes great responsibility.
Poffer is kind of a superhero. If we allow him, he can defuse just about any situation. You really can’t stay “red” (mad) too long with a 6-foot owl hi-fiving you. Poffer helps bring back the innocent child in all of us. He has the magical ability to awaken our conscience and remind us of who we really want to be. Poffer is the “will” in the old saying, “if there’s a will, there’s a way”.
Poffer gives us hope in a world that often is filled with hopelessness. He can take shame and envy and package those strong feelings into something that is manageable. Poffer is the exact opposite of the artificial coping mechanism of alcohol and other drugs that so many in our society have turned to. Poffer lets us know it’s okay to be sad and or disappointed… it’s how you deal with those feelings, that is the real measuring stick. We alone can choose whether our brain and body will be hi-jacked by our feelings. There is a place for every feeling and because we know what it feels like to be sad we especially appreciate the feeling of happy. We also learn about empathy and what a gift it can be when shared with others.
There is something else about Poffer. When you have the honor of being inside him, something happens. When you look through Poffer’s big black eyes you see people differently. It’s difficult to explain. You have no peripheral vision so you are really focused on what is right in front of you. You lock eyes with a young child who looks at you like you are the most incredible thing in the world. They stare with such wonder. Some are shy and need you to approach slowly or not at all. If you take advantage of this quiet moment they will bless you with another gift … the gift of trust. It’s a priceless gift that so deserves to be treasured and reciprocated. Others light up and will push you over with their exuberant hug if you aren’t prepared. Of course, there are the “beak tweekers” and” tail pullers”, but that sometimes is also just another test of trust.
Even adults smile. It’s as if for a brief moment we are transported back to childhood when we still believed in dreams coming true. I would love to have a variety of people hooked up to electrodes and see the neurological response that occurs as they give Poffer a fist bump or hug. Without scientific proof I can only tell you what I know, what I see, looking through Poffer’s eyes. I see a glimpse of hope and joy, curiosity and playfulness. I see a slice of time that is not filled with worry and doubt.
Everyone needs to experience the look of a child when they recognize you, I mean Poffer. They come flying through the room on a dead run and tell you they‘ve missed you and can’t wait to show you their homework. It’s amazing the feeling that comes over you when a child looks into your eyes and just can’t get enough of you. I guess it’s the feeling of love. How can that be if I don’t even know the child? It doesn’t matter, they know you and they are giving you unconditional love, the greatest love of all.
I love being Poffer, but the real magic of the whole experience is that Poffer has taught me that I can be him … even without the suit. All I need to do is practice that unconditional love, suit or no suit. Remind me that we all need to share that look of acceptance when we look into another’s eyes. See that person for who they can become and not the person who is temporarily imprisoned by his or her feelings.
Please take the time to be Poffer. You really can’t go wrong and soon we just may see a lot more “yellow” everywhere we look and remember … “Feelings are real and something we feel. What matters the most is the way that we deal.” – Poffer
Can I “Vaccinate” My Child from Addiction?
I am often asked at what age should one start talking to their children about the risks of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs? The question is a vital one and though it may not be as scary as “the sex” talk it is still just as important.
But I have good news. We can start “vaccinating” our children against the dangers of addiction as young as 2 and 3 years old. How? Let me start with a powerful quote from Dr. John Knight, founder, and director, Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Boston Children’s Hospital, “Addiction is a pediatric disease … when adults entering addiction treatment are asked when they first began drinking or using drugs, the answer is almost always the same: They started when they were young.”
I am not implying that we have toddlers running around with beer in their bottles. But we do have young children being raised in an environment that has unintentionally neglected the development of social emotional learning skills which are key to the ability to deal with one’s emotions. We concentrate on making sure our children know their colors or are able to read prior to kindergarten, but do they know how to stop or deal with the feelings of frustration and or boredom. Do we brag that our child knows how to use a smartphone? Instead, we could choose to spend time playing “Red Light, Green Light” in order to help our children strengthen important brain connections. Strengthening these same brain conditions will pay dividends in the classroom as well as learning how to deal with the peer pressure that often involves substance abuse. The work of learning to stop and say no needs to begin early and can be as easy as playing a childhood game or being introduced to a wise owl named “Poffer”.
We here at YouthThink believe that the solution to helping our youth make positive choices in their lives starts with raising the awareness of the importance of social emotional learning. With this in mind, YouthThink has been given the opportunity to be the pilot organization for the revolutionary social emotional learning “Pocket Full of Feelings” (PFF) process and PFF Boot Camps. “Poffer” is the character that helps our children understand that “Feelings are real and something you feel. What matters the most is the way that you deal.”
Already in its short existence over 200 parents and care providers have completed PFF boot camp and the results are speaking for themselves. One parent shared, “Children have the language to be able to talk about their emotions and dealing with them. They can also recognize them in adults. I think it’s helping.” Another parent shared, “I found a lot of value from the knowledge gained from the boot camp and I have a much better understanding of how extremely crucial it is as a parent to be aware and be educated so that we can do our best to provide exactly what our children need”.
These quotes are great and strengthen our resolve to continue to promote social emotional learning as a potential “vaccine” to prevent a future of addiction for our children. We understand that as parents and caring adults we are not always able to control the environment or the pressures our children will find themselves in but we can promote the education of understanding their feelings and developing the skill set to know how to deal with those feelings and empowering them to choose the behavior that will give them the outcomes they really desire. It matters. Just ask those same adults mentioned earlier, the ones seeking drug treatment. So many also shared that drug use was their way of dealing with their feelings.
We can protect our children and we can symbolically vaccinate them from a future of addiction and we can start now, no matter how young. YouthThink invites you to join us in our effort to increase the social emotional learning abilities of our children and participate in an upcoming coming PFF boot camp. It’s easy and it’s free and it might just be the start to a new future for Wasco County children and families. Please see the back cover for more boot camp information or visit YouthThink.net.