Hugo and the Sad, by Oliva Radocchia

throughout my youth I dabbled in creative writing online, in journals, and in academic courses. While majoring in literature in my first two years of university, I decided to change directions and head towards the field of psychology, later completing an undergraduate specialization in psychology from the University of Toronto. I had always been fascinated by why people are they way they are, their motivations and behaviours, and the inner workings of the mind – and I love being around children. I was inspired by my mother who worked as Speech and Language Pathologist at the school board, and I grew up watching her work privately with children on the weekends from our home office. Growing

up, I would act as her helper during her summer speech and language camps and loved spending time helping children learn. I went on to work as a teacher during curriculum summer camps throughout my university years, and knew I wanted to one day be able to merge my interest in psychology, my love of working with children, and my creative side.

My opportunity came knocking a few years later when I was completing my master’s degree in Clinical and Counselling Psychology from Adler Graduate Professional School. I had completed my placements in the school board, counselling students from grades 3 to 12 and completing psychoeducational assessments. It had come the time to pick a topic for my thesis; I have always been more of a hands on individual when it came to academic projects (when possible), and so, I tried to think of a project I could create that would have a practical use. While I’m unable to remember the precise moment I thought to write a book, I had likely been gazing at my extensive bookshelf in my room, and looking at all the

wonderful children’s books that my mother continues to buy for me every year on my birthday.

I approached my supervisor in my program with the proposal to create a children’s book aimed at bolstering emotional resilience in children which would include resources on mental health- she loved the idea. I sought out an illustrator and had a wonderful time creating Hugo the hedgehog, a fun-loving young character who, feeling down and not quite himself, would be relatable to a wide range of young children.

With respect to psychology, I have always been more passionate about ideas around strengthening resilience and working with individuals in terms of utilizing their passions and interests to improve self-care and wellbeing rather than focusing on a strictly clinical approach. Children are especially able to naturally engage in creative and fun tasks, and so I wanted to create a story that would highlight fun activities that children could utilize to strengthen their emotional resilience, while still enjoying themselves and being able to engage in open conversation with the adults in their lives.

In the midst of the current global change (COVID-19), and a shift towards possible new realities, it is normal to feel ungrounded, confused, anxious, or lost. We are constantly bombarded with news, conflicting information, and it can feel like sensory overload. Children are not an exception; between the changes in the education system as a reaction to COVID-19 protocols, less socialization and extracurricular activities, not fully understanding the why behind the changes, and feeling the stress and anxiety of the adults around them, children can begin to feel overwhelmed and anxious themselves. Children, in general, deal with a wide variety of stressors, including bullying, stressful environments at home and within the family, illness, recent immigration, experiencing or witnessing trauma, separation/divorce, among other issues. Examples of how mental health conditions may manifest as a diagnosis in children include: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and learning disabilities.

Fortunately, there are a variety of approaches and resources aimed at helping children cope with mental health difficulties. Seeking information from their family physician, school psychologists or school social worker is a great place to start. Signs that children may be experiencing mental health difficulties include: changes in thinking, such as negative thoughts, poor school performance, and trouble concentrating; changes in feelings, such as feeling lonely, hopeless, angry, sad, or anxious; changes in behaviour, such as wanting to be alone, crying easily, acting quiet and withdrawn, and trouble relating to friends; and physical changes, such as headaches, lack of energy, eating or sleeping problems, or

having too much energy. As parents/ guardians/ teachers in a child’s life, we can begin to support them by helping them build strong relationships with caring adults and family, help bolster their self-esteem by showing them acceptance, love, and helping them create attainable goals, listen non-judgmentally to them express their feelings and encourage them to express themselves, and create a positive and safe home environment, involving physical activity, healthy food, limited time spent on technology, and by being a positive role model. It is also important to encourage a child to speak to a counsellor at school if they don’t feel comfortable speaking to family members.

I am very excited to be publishing Hugo and the Sad, and hope to circulate the book in schools, doctor’s offices, and children’s homes. I look forward to creating more books as a part of a series, each with an animal character who deals with unique experiences and challenges.

Currently, I work currently work as a holistic counsellor who is passionate about health and wellness. I conduct psychological assessments and offer counselling to adults and children. I assist those I work with in integrating emotional, spiritual and mental wellbeing utilizing both evidence-based and holistic approaches, including mindfulness, Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, compassion-based therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and healthy lifestyle activation. I strive to creates a safe space in which the individual can feel at ease in expressing themselves fully, exploring their inner world, and leaning into acceptance and compassion for themselves and their current situation. I lead individuals towards personal growth and wholeness while they learn to connect to their authentic self on a deeper level.

I am also the organizer and host of the Serenità Wellness Retreat, a week-long wellness retreat for women in the Italian countryside, where a safe and magical space is created for women to experience a deep shift towards rejuvenation and connection in the midst of the richness of Italian culture and culinary traditions. In the past, I have worked as a volunteer at Caritas, School of Life Therapeutic Community for Addiction Recovery as an art therapy workshop facilitator, and have

also facilitated the MindUp Mindfulness for Kids program, teaching children essential tools for self-regulation and wellbeing.

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