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Dexter the Dragon

Happy Lunar New Year!

dexter; lunar-new-year; worry

Lunar New Year started on 10th February and will be celebrated until the next full moon or the fifth day of the lunar month which, this year, is 24th February 2024.

This year is the year of the Dragon…

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you all to Dexter the Dragon!

dexter; lunar-new-year; worry

Dexter is the star of one of our therapeutic stories, Dexter’s Birthday.  The tale follows Dexter and his mummy as they work together to try to find a way to make Dexter’s birthday wish come true.

Dexter’s Birthday is a story about working through worries and problem solving.  It’s about learning to share our problems, and working with people we trust to help us overcome them.

dexter; lunar-new-year; worry

From Dexter’s Birthday:

“What’s wrong?” asked mum, “It’s your special day!

I can see that you’re sad, and that’s not ok…

You just tell me what I can do,

To make your birthday special for you.”

“No” Said Dexter, “You’ll think I’m daft!”

Mum looked surprised and then she laughed.

“If something is important to you,

Then I promise you Dexter, it’s important to me too.

If we don’t share our worries; if no one else knows,

Then that little worry, just grows and grows!”

dexter; lunar-new-year; worry

Have you ever heard yourself saying to a child, “Don’t be silly, that’s not worth worrying about!”?

If we don’t create an environment where our children can come to us with their ‘Small Stuff’ because they think they’ll be dismissed, we’re not creating an environment where they’ll feel they can come to us with their Big Stuff either.

If your child comes to you with a worry or problem that you deem insignificant, remember that to them, it’s probably the most important thing in the world right now!  Take time to talk to your child about what is worrying them, or what the problem is that they can’t solve, and make time to help them find a useful solution.

Name the feelings and make them ok – the child’s response to the issue might be deemed inappropriate, but for them, it’s likely all they’ve got.  Nobody has ever been made to feel better by being made to feel worse…  Telling anyone that what they’re feeling is silly or inappropriate, just serves to invalidate their feelings and experiences. 

Children particularly, will simply learn to try and predict what things you will deem as silly or inappropriate and avoid talking to you about them.  This conditioning will follow them through childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood if it’s not noticed and corrected.  There are so many adults living with their own anxieties and insecurities just because their own adults didn’t make time or space for their worries when they were little.

Don’t misunderstand me, we need to have a sliding scale of seriousness – we can’t bring the world to a halt every time a child says, “I can’t find my gloves!” but HOW we apply that scale of seriousness is worth thinking about:

dexter; lunar-new-year; worry

CHILD: “I’ve lost my gloves!”

ADULT: “That’s the second pair of gloves you’ve lost this week! I can’t keep buying you gloves just because you can’t put them away properly!”

CHILD:  Will never admit to their adults again that they’ve lost ANYTHING because they ‘got in trouble for it last time.’ 

What if…

CHILD: “I’ve lost my gloves!”

ADULT: “That’s a shame…  I wonder where you left them. If we think hard together and retrace your steps, do you think we might find them?”

CHILD: Is likely to engage with this new game of Hunt The Gloves… AND, next time they lose something, they won’t be afraid to tell an adult – they’ll know that the adult is there to help them not admonish them. As an added bonus, you’re modelling the process for problem-solving… 

dexter; lunar-new-year; worry

Swapping Furious for Curious is the quickest way to reframe ‘behaviour’ and change the ADULT’S position – there’s a world of difference between feeling furious that the child has lost yet another pair of gloves, and feeling curious about where the bloody hell they’ve left them THIS time! – and the child will know this…

None of us likes it when someone is furious with us, especially if they’ve jumped to conclusions and prejudged THE problem as OUR problem – it wasn’t the thing, it was YOU – the gloves didn’t lose themselves, did they?! Feels very different to someone being genuinely curious about how THE problem can be solved – The gloves have been lost, how can we find them?

I’m told often that doing things this way removes responsibility, “The child must learn to take care of their things Jess!”

It doesn’t remove responsibility though, what it removes is BLAME.

 “You’re responsible for bringing home the same pair of gloves that you went to school with.”


“It’s your fault the gloves have been lost again – you can’t be trusted with anything!”

One’s proactive, the other’s reactive…

One’s a measured, regulated response, the other’s a visceral, dysregulated reaction…

One gives potential to open a discussion about how to do it differently, so the gloves don’t get lost again:

“What if we practised putting your gloves in your book bag instead of in your pockets? Would that help?”

The other closes down the potential to open a discussion about how to do it differently, because there’s no room for anything but anger:

“I can’t keep on buying you new gloves just because you don’t know how to look after them!”

You’ll notice the main difference in those statements is the difference between I and we… 

  • “I” statements make the person talking the most important thing.

  • “We” statements make the issue at hand the most important thing.

Which is more important in this scenario? Conveying your feelings of anger and frustration, or not having to buy 4,682 new pairs of gloves?!

If we keep putting the same things in, we’ll keep getting the same things out…

dexter; lunar-new-year; worry

Top Tips for worry-busting:

1)     Work Together!

Work through the problem together, taking time to explain why you’ve said something or made a decision.  “Because I said so” really doesn’t cut it when your child can instantly find millions of people who disagree with you on their social feeds. 

Your child’s understanding of the world can only be as old as they are – if they’re four, their understanding of the world is also four!  Our understanding of the world is much greater than theirs, so when they come to us with a worry or a problem, they’re expecting to be able to rely on our greater knowledge and understanding of stuff to help them resolve their issue.

Dexter’s Birthday, like all our therapeutic stories, comes with a handy toolkit in the back to help adults change how they approach things with their young people. Part of the toolkit in Dexter’s Birthday is a resource called Working through Worries that you can use as a visual prompt for you and your child.  It shows a process that clearly:

  • Identifies the problem / worry

  • Scales the importance of that problem / worry

  • Asks the child to think about how the worry / problem can be made smaller

  • Asks the child to think about who can help them and how

  • Asks the child to identify ways that they can measure the improvement of the worry / problem

  • And asks the child to think about what they could do in future if the same worry / problem arises.

2)     Be patient

It’s not unlikely that the solution you offer to your child won’t be the one they want!  It’s important to use positive language to speak to them about why the answer isn’t the one they want to hear right now, and where possible, negotiate and compromise:

“We can’t go to the park right now because I need to do some jobs in the house.  Maybe we can go later after we’ve picked your brother / sister up from school instead.  That way, you get someone to play with too!”

Become a broken record if needed – if there’s a good reason for saying no or something not being possible, hold the boundary!  Giving in will only make your child learn that persistence means you’ll cave every time.

It’s important to add a note about age-appropriate behaviour / language here.  Your four-year-old won’t understand as clearly as your 9-year-old will that sometimes we have to wait for things, and that sometimes we can’t have them at all. 

Also, your four-year-old won’t have the same amount of language as your nine-year-old so you might see a behavioural response from them rather than a verbal one.  If your child responds to a negative (in their mind!) outcome with behaviour (ie a ‘tantrum’), it’s really important not to scold the tantrum, but to acknowledge their disappointment and support them to understand that not getting what we want every time is hard!  You can talk to them about more appropriate responses once they’re calm enough to engage meaningfully with the conversation. 

3)     Remember it’s not your job to prevent disappointing outcomes…

It’s your job to make sure your child knows how to deal with those disappointments.

Disappointment is, well, disappointing!  In this day and age of instant gratification, be mindful that your child’s ability to deal with rejection is not well practised! Make time and space to help them deal with rejection and disappointment - it’s a fact of life they won’t be able to avoid…

Disappointment is a part of life and it’s really important that our children understand this!  If we focus on protecting them from the Bad Stuff, they won’t grow or develop the skills to manage their own disappointments.  This skill is what professionals call ‘resilience’.

When doing problem-solving / worry-busting work, it’s our responsibility (the adults) to include a discussion about how the child will feel if the outcome is disappointing for them.  Ask them, How will that feel?  What might it look like?  What will you be able to do about it?  Do we need to have two plans?  One for a positive outcome, and another for a disappointing outcome?

4)     Time

Make time for the small stuff.  If your children don’t feel heard and supported when they come to you with a problem you’d deem small, or not worth worrying about, they won’t come to you with their big problems.  The outcome of this is that they’ll seek advice elsewhere - likely from online sources.

Set aside protected time each day to talk to your child about their worries. Ten minutes or so, at the same time each day (after school, before bed, while they’re in the bath….) and make this time sacrosanct.  No phones, no TV, no distractions, just ten minutes of time dedicated to talking through worries / problems.  If the child has no worries / problems, use the time to celebrate something good / positive they’ve done – kids LOVE it when we notice stuff they’ve done…  Especially stuff that they’ve had to work hard at.

Recognise their progress too – notice changes such as less crying and shouting, more talking and working together; less time taken to accept decisions made, more useful strategies being employed.  For example,

“I loved how you worked with your friend today to sort out who went first in your game – that was a really good bit of problem-solving you both did!”

Ask your child what they see / feel is different and if that’s better / worse than what was happening previously.  Be prepared to take their thoughts and contributions on board so you can both keep developing your relationship and skills around problem-solving / worry-busting!

dexter; lunar-new-year; worry

Dexter’s Birthday and all our other therapeutic stories are available on Amazon.

We’re very excited to announce the launch of our Story Sacks too – see our website for further information.

dexter; lunar-new-year; worry

Image Credits:

Katie Baldock

From Pixabay


If you use any of our content or ideas (whether word-for-word or paraphrasing) for social media or professional purposes - please credit us, put a link to our website (if you are using our content online), and let us know!

© 2021-2024 Jess Lovibond Therapeutic Services CIC. All rights reserved.

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