A few months ago I was drawn to this book like a magnet, within seconds I knew I was going to read it, that this was about me. And that was right.

For as long as I can remember I have been interested in trauma, resilience and healing. I once became a teacher because I want to make a difference in the lives of children. Children growing up in an unsafe home situation, for whatever reason. I have started using hand puppet because I want to provide a safe friend for all children, but especially for children who have lost faith in adults. I want to let them know: I want to be there for you, let you know that I see and hear you. Without judgement, without conditions and without a double agenda. I allow you to be who you are, I am curious about you and want to get to know you better. That forms the basis of all I do with a hand puppet.

I recognize myself in the book “What happened to you”. In this book, Dr. Perry patiently explains to me where my brain has stored the insecurity before and after my birth and why I react the way I react. How is it possible that certain thoughts about myself are so persistent. Why I am always the first to look for the emergency exit or escape routes in new places. I know that I am not my thoughts and I also know that I am able to save myself, but still….. not everything can be explained rationally, and not everything can be solved with therapy. But it doesn’t have to be because my life didn’t stop after that traumatic start. There came a time when I could make my own choices, give my pain a place, and decide which path I would take. And I do that over and over again.

I decided to become a teacher and wrote a final thesis in 1998 entitled: “The Helping Witness”. The helping witness was a term I borrowed from Alice Miller. She describes the helping witness as a positive and supportive third party in the environment that a child can turn to when it needs it. That helping witness can be anyone: a teacher, the father or mother of a friend, the neighbor, the lady at the library, a grandmother, etc. I have had several helping witnesses in my young life and am still grateful for their presence. With them, I felt safe and allowed to be myself, with them, it mattered what I said, and I learned that there were other realities besides my reality. That gave me hope and the strength to leave my parental home and go to college. Later, when I grew up, I could become anything I wanted to be.

I became a teacher because I want to make a difference by being a helping witness and because I believe in education. For me, education is about increasing opportunities and possibilities, and that’s my wish for every child. In my thesis I worked out an idea in which the hand puppet would be used as a tool and I went into practice with it after graduating. I soon noticed that children were eagerly awaiting the arrival of my puppet and that he was told secrets that remained secret from me. If I kept to myself, didn’t interfere with what went on between the child and the puppet, if I shared it without judgement and could put my being an educator ‘on hold’ for a while, then the child showed me something that helped me understand the child better. I still think that’s one of the most beautiful discoveries I’ve made in my life: if I want to understand a child better, I have to start thinking from the child’s perspective and leave my adult judgements and solutions behind.

My hand puppet proved to be an indispensable tool for me. She completes me and makes me more aware. Her friendship, trust and genuineness work both ways. She helps children further in their development by asking questions and coming up with plans. But she also helps me as an educator by showing me that I am regularly wrong with my assumptions, that I am an annoying smart-ass and that I am less safe for some children as I hope to be. My puppet functions as a mirror in which I see not only the child, but also myself. As a result, I learn, I can continue to develop and improve myself. Knowing that I can make a difference in a child’s life makes me happy and is perhaps the most important motivation for doing what I do.

“What happened to you” touches me. The way in which a trauma takes hold in a young child and starts to lead a life of its own, sometimes very decisive, feels unfair and arbitrary. No child is guilty of its own trauma. Yet it can be experienced for years like this: It was my fault, I’m not good enough, I should have tried harder, I’m not worth it, I’m not worthy of love if only I…. then…., there is something wrong with me…

“What happened to you” also makes me happy because it is an accessible book about a problem that many professional educators have to deal with directly or indirectly and that is not always interpreted in the right way. I’m happy with the question “what happened to you?” and glad that it immediately became widely known thanks to Oprah. Read it, if you haven’t already read it (or listen to it as an audiobook, you’ll hear the dialogue between Dr. Perry and Oprah, even better actually)

No child has asked for a traumatic event, but you can help him become what he wants to be when he grows up. You can make a difference and if you’re looking to help with that…..consider a hand puppet.

This video is about this topic too:

Thank you for reading 🙂

With Love,


Helen Meurs (helenmeurs.com) is a pioneer in the field of Puppet Power, an independent trainer and developer. She offers online courses, is the lead instructor at the vocational training for puppet coaches, and authored the book ‘The Hand Puppet as a Educational Tool’. Subscribe to her newsletter if you want to know more.

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Published in a renowned Dutch professional journal for early childhood specialists.

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