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My story begins on August 13, 1969, at precisely 9:15 AM.

The circumstances of my birth significantly influenced my decision to work with hand puppets, or rather, to seek a tool that could help me connect with children on a different level, reaching layers otherwise inaccessible to me as an adult. This tool turned out to be the hand puppet.

I sought such a tool knowing that children often do not show their true selves to adults, a behavior I was familiar with from my own childhood. I learned early on to adapt, understanding that such adaptability could earn me love and safety, yet also aware of how easily it could be lost.

As a child, I developed keen observational skills and the ability to anticipate events, akin to a chameleon changing colors as the situation demanded. This adaptability was not just a survival mechanism but a way to continually engage with my environment.

Born with a birthmark, I was immediately rejected by my mother, who couldn’t accept my appearance.

Throughout my life, I’ve come to understand her story better, recognizing she was a victim of her own history, making choices that led her into complex situations. I’ve grown to believe she wanted the best for me, limited only by her beliefs, her pain, and her desire to do right.

However, the reality remains that her actions and choices caused me harm, the effects of which I still feel today.

This isn’t a story of blame but one of resilience and hope. A significant turning point for me was the support of my grandmother, who always believed in me and instilled in me the belief that I could become anything I wanted to. Her hope was the beacon that guided me toward independence.

It wasn’t until my studies in social work that I began to understand and name my experiences as child abuse, encompassing physical, emotional abuse, and neglect, realizing these were the result of early trauma.

Once I could name my experiences, I sought help and began to uncover who I was beneath layers of learned behavior.

This journey led me to decide to become a teacher, aspiring to impact a child’s life as my grandmother had impacted mine. In my final year of study, a mentor handed me Alice Miller’s “The Drama of the Gifted Child,” introducing me to the concept of the ‘enlightened witness.’ This concept inspired the idea of introducing a non-threatening third presence in my interactions with children, which led me to choose a puppet.

I wrote my thesis on promoting children’s socio-emotional development through hand puppets, experimenting with them during my internships and developing an approach that recognized the puppet’s potential, especially for children from challenging backgrounds.

Becoming “the teacher with the puppet,” I tested my theories on children of all ages, aiming to lower the barriers to communication, realizing that my skills in adaptation and connection were crucial in this work.

As I experimented with the puppet and refined my approach, I also worked through my trauma, encountering my past in the children I worked with, creating spaces I wished I had as a child, and beginning to process buried emotions.

Finding cognitive therapy insufficient, I turned to bodywork, specifically Core Energetics, influenced by Eva Pierrakos and Alexander Lowen’s work. This process of healing was transformative, teaching me the power of listening to my body and the healing that comes from movement and acknowledging the layers of experiences that shape us.

The unresolved trauma that once threatened to destroy me internally became the foundation of my work with puppets, focusing not on trauma but on building safe, nurturing relationships with children.

The puppet serves as a bridge, engaging children at their level, fostering relationships based on curiosity, play, and understanding, distinct from my role, offering a unique approach to engagement and support.

This method has proven effective, allowing children to share openly, fostering connections that enrich both our lives and affirming the puppet’s role as a safe, approachable figure in their lives.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve shared this approach with thousands of educators, caregivers, and therapists, helping them see the puppet as an extension of themselves and a tool for deeper engagement with children.

My journey confirms the transformative power of understanding and compassion, both in my personal healing and in my professional work, offering hope and practical strategies for those facing the challenges of connecting with and supporting children in a complex world.

Every time I encounter a child struggling to communicate or connect, I’m reminded of the power of this approach, offering not a quick fix but a profound and meaningful way to engage, benefiting both the child and the adult. And for those willing to explore this path, I’m here to offer support and guidance every step of the way.

Thank you for reading and your time, I was quite a read wasn’t it?

Author

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.