Using Strategies and Play to Help Young Children Process Mold-Related Experiences
Anyone that has been through any part of "The Mold Experience" understands just how taxing it can be on our mind. We navigate these new deep trenches of misinformation, misdiagnoses, mistreatment, symptoms, loss, and trauma daily. As adults, we have a lot of life experience dealing with difficult situations from our pasts, and also have higher ordered thinking processes to aid us in our understanding and acceptance of all that mold brings to our doorstep. Is it easy? Absolutely not. But, we are much are able to process and move through it all than say, our children.
How a child can be affected by mold (and co.) is really a never ending list.
They are newer to this world, and still working daily on basic functioning and how things are "supposed" to work. Children are busy bees, forming schemas and assimilating information that is supposed to help them understand how the world "normally" is; so to be bombarded by new experiences surrounding or information about mold (and it's overwhelming cascade of effects) completely rocks everything they know and are learning.
The things that they've learned so far in life have helped them create feelings of safety and normalcy. Repetition and familiarity offer these feelings.
So it's no wonder that when we start to get rid of items from our homes, that children tend to panic a bit. We are changing the environment that they knew was safe just how it was. We are removing comfort items, and items in which our children have specials memories and attachments. Their safe world becomes rocked.
Take heart though, children are wonderfully resilient and naturally curious. As much as we fear that they will experience trauma from loss involved in their mold journey, we need to keep in mind that we have tools to help them understand what is happening, and help them process it so that they can feel safe to move past it.
Some of the hardest moments we've dealt with our children during this journey are:
Seeing their special personal things being thrown away.
I'm going to address this below and offer some operating strategies for dealing with it and also some play ideas you can use to help your child work through the experience.
Playing is a form of therapy for children. Play can be used as a means of helping children express or communicate their feelings about an experience. We need to learn how to communicate feelings in order to be able to process trauma, or difficult happenings.
Seeing things being thrown away
Step One: Explain Why the things need to leave. You need to keep this developmentally appropriate, so letting your child know that mold found in homes creates health problems. The things in your house have been in a moldy environment where the mold could get on them. Now you need to remove them for everyone's health.
That short explanation is okay. If your child is naturally curious (or a little older) and you want to allow them to have more education about mold and remediation you can purchase a book I wrote for that purpose here, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09QP22W6G?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860&fbclid=IwAR2IrBvgJIfdaCr0P4JNDMVrZBqnwkjjIcyVYq1w160j-eFf-bQlOZRuR1k
Information about that book is here in a blog post:
Step Two: Establish and Execute Specific Guidelines to follow that you and your family will use to consistently select which items need to leave your home. Stick to those rules. Treat everyone's possessions with equal importance and use the rules for everyone's things. In our home we decided the following:
Things must leave if they are:
1) Visually moldy
2) Stored or Used in the room where the mold was found.
3) Stained or Discolored
4) Smelly in any way
5) Make us feel less healthy around them, or increase our symptoms around them.
6) Did we use these items at least once a month or were they just clutter?
We used this list to decide what we would get rid of for every single item in our home, and we only had a few tricky moments with our kids- when we got to special personal items in their rooms.
Step Three: Pivot Strategies: If emotions run high during this process, you may decide to-
1) Stop and talk about your child's feelings with them, but ultimately remind your child that the items that are leaving will make them, or their family sicker- so they must leave for the health and safety of the family. As the parent, you are responsible for making the best health and safety decisions for the children of the family so you have to do what you need to do to maintain that.
2) Do the purging when your child is not around. If they cannot emotionally handle the process of going through all of their things and helping choose what needs to go and what can stay, do it without them. I do not say this not to be mean and encourage you to throw away anything you want of theirs, but it will allow them to miss out on you approaching some emotionally charged items in front of your child- and seeing you get rid of those will cause them distress.
3) Allow your child to pick 5 of their very most important items from their room and do your absolute damnest to try and save them by cleaning them. Let your child know that you will try a few different things to save those items but if you can not they need to leave for safety. Cleaning protocols for different materials can be found a few places online, as well as recommendations on what you can clean.
I'll link to a couple here:
Why not use bleach to clean? (Never use bleach.)
If you cannot save their important item, make plans to go together on a special date to pick out a new beginnings friend- a new buddy that can join them in all the new adventures awaiting. See if you can make the event extra special by creating a certificate of adoption, or getting an accessory or an outfit for their new buddy, Maybe take your child and the new buddy out for a very fun experience together so a positive memory gets instantly assigned to their new buddy and they feel emotionally attached to it.
Seeing things being thrown away
Using Play to Cope
When you have young children in the home, play can be a powerful tool to help them deal with big emotions.
Play is how young children intuitively learn about the world, their selves, and how the two fit together. Allowing your child ample time to play allows them to build understanding and process information. It allows them to switch roles and step outside of themselves also, in order to get a new view point or step away from feelings and experiences that are too much for them. When play is used for therapeutic value children are able to process fear, anxiety, or loss.
When children are playing, they can approach a new idea or experience that might otherwise frighten them, because they are in control of the speed and happenings that relate to the content. They are able to control what happens in play, or guess what happens next. These are powerful tools for a child to use when approaching a potentially scary or sad situation in play. Children can also choose to use props, dolls, tools, or other people to help them work through play that conveys fear or loss.
"The late Vivian Gussin Paley, a kindergarten teacher, recipient of the MacArthur “genius” grant, and author of dozens of books on children’s play lives, put it this way: “The young child wants to play. He wants to play because intuitively he understands that through play he will understand more about who he is than in any other format.”
...Imaginative play not only enables children to better understand reality—by helping them to inhabit the perspectives of, say, both a doll patient and a stuffed animal doctor—but also to quickly change the narrative when the reality becomes too much to bear. (In the past two months, I’ve seen this with a three-year-old I’ve spent a lot of time with, who repeatedly declares dolls dead before bringing them back to life.) Psychologists call these processes denial and undoing, and they’re essential to maintaining a child’s sense of safety and control.
“Play has the power to make something un-happen, to correct something that’s overwhelming,” Aronson explains."
While the fear, grief, and loss that children face when going through mold has to do with possessions and materials there is still important significance in allowing them to play, process, and move through those feelings.
Because we are changing the environment that our children know as safe- just how it was,- we are creating conditions for uncertainty, fear, grief, and loss to grow. We are removing comfort items, and items in which our children have specials memories and attachments. Their safe world becomes rocked. Play can help them cope.
Ideas for Play
1) Using a dollhouse/dolls to play through remediation
Materials that can be used
Dollhouse -or- Empty table top
Dolls or Action figures
Green, white, or black playdough (really any color works but these are most typically thought of as "mold colors" by many)
Set up furniture in the dollhouse -or- around the table top in different rooms to create a "house" layout.
Allow your child to take the playdough and stick it on, under, around different things in the doll house.
Begin play by pretending that the dolls -or action figures- are living in their house together and some how they discover the mold.
Work through "remediation" in play by having you and your child use the tape and tinfoil to create a barrier between the moldy room(s) and the rest of the house.
Now that you've created proper containment, have some work dolls or action figures come in to remove the mold. (If you want, you can create suits and masks out of the tin foil for them to keep them safe from the mold spores and mycotoxins.)
Have the team remove the moldy furniture from the doll house, you and your child can pick all of the playdough mold off of the stuff together.
Pretend to have the workers clean the rooms in the doll house afterward. Then they can remove the tin foil barriers and allow the family back inside the house.
Take the original dolls that live in the home and have them discuss if they think the items are clean and safe enough to move back into the house now, or if they should go to a nearby furniture store to buy new furniture.
Depending on which route your child chooses, redecorate the house together and celebrate that you have successfully rid the home of mold!
Try playing again, but change the amount of playdough mold that is used and where it is put in the house. To deepen play, try to talk about what you notice(d) the real remediation team does/did in your home to help get the mold out of yours. Encourage your child to share their thoughts.
2) Set up a "toy fixing shop"
Materials that can be used:
Small baskets or bins
Combs and brushes
Tweezers (use with adult monitoring)
Small hand towels or washcloths
A spray bottle with water (can pretend it has natural cleaner inside to remove mold)
Toy hammers/toy pliers/toy screwdriver
Paint brush or roller and a small empty cup (for pretend painting)
---Generally anything you have on hand that is safe that will offer the child a chance to "clean or "fix" or "bandage up" a toy
Come in as a "customer" with a stuffed animal (or other favorite toy) that you pretend is in rough shape. You as the customer tell the child who is the "toy repair person" that you want to try saving your toy that was in your home, which has been remediated of mold.
Tell your toy repair person what kinds of things you see that need fixing on your toy, or ask them to use their tools to fix it up their self.
Ie. (This is my stuffed bunny, I notice that it's fur is mighty tangled, and also that it got dirty from mold when I took it outside to play. Can you brush and wipe it down for me so I can keep it?)
-or- (I brought in my snap-apart cars, and all the pieces fell off of them. I can't seem to get them back into place. Could you try hammering them back in, and also spray it down for me? It was in my moldy basement for a while and I want to clean it up well so it is safe to play with again.)
As they work on fixing your toy, let them know how much you appreciate their help. You can share emotional talking about the item they are fixing and ask if they have any favorite toy(s) that they like and why. If your child is enjoying playing and you are connecting well, you can try to talk about the real life toys they've lost. (Keep this in mind in case they share about an item they had to lose during remediation, maybe you can replace it.)
Share that for your health and safety that you had to let go of other things that you really liked too and it was hard for you. You may choose to share that it made you feel sad, but that you are happy to remember the good memories you had with them.
When they are done fixing up your toy in their shop, see if they want to switch roles and try playing again, this time with them being the customer. It may give them another way to enter conversations about loss, toys, and mold, or another way to process their experiences from a new perspective.
3) Set up a "washing station"
Materials that can be used:
A Water Sensory Table, Sink, or a Tub
Non-breakable Cups, Bowls, Plates, Forks, Spoons, Mugs
Spray Bottle with Green Water inside (mix water and food coloring)
Towels (This is fun messy play)
Set up an empty sensory bin.
Have you child pick 3 items to set into the sink.
Ask your child to spray the green water from the squirt bottle all over 3 items in the sink.
Once they are really green and wet, let your child know that you are going to pretend that the green spray is mold. the items in the sink are all moldy.
Have the adult take the rest of the cups, plates, etc and put them in the bin with green items.
Have your child gently push the items around in the sink so that they bump into one another, fall against each other, stack up on one another, and collide.
Share with your child that you are noticing the green color move onto the clean items you had put into the sink.
Let them know that this is kind of how mold works. If you have clean things in the same room as some things that are moldy, they will eventually become moldy or affected by the mold too. These items need to get cleaned well or thrown out.
Explain that this play is about seeing if you can wash all the mold off of the kitchen ware together. Cleaning things is one way that we can protect ourselves from mold.
Help your child fill the bin/sink/tub with water and use a variety of different tools and soap to clean the items.
Celebrate your victory when you get the green off of the items!
(Image made by me on Canva)
It's getting late over here so I'm stopping for the night, but I'll add some more ideas later on.