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Entertainer, Author Helps Military Children Cope

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

CHICAGO, Sept. 23, 2009 – In some respects, life for military children today isn’t much different than it was decades ago. Like all kids, they still face bullying, cliques and homework in the course of a school day.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Trevor Romain, a noted children's author, demonstrates the power of using storytelling and visual aids to reach military children during the Defense Department's Joint Family Readiness Conference in Chicago, Sept. 2, 2009. As an example, he held up a toy mouse inside a glass bowl. Just as nothing he sprays on the bowl reaches the mouse, he said, children can “shield” themselves from mean remarks. DoD photo by Elaine Wilson
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

What they have that past generations didn’t, however, is Trevor Romain, an international children’s author, advocate and entertainer who promotes social and emotional fitness of young students. The Trevor Romain Company currently is working with the military to create a DVD to address the special challenges of military kids.

“I’m really proud and happy to say that thanks to the USO and working with the Pentagon and various agencies,” Romain said. “I’ve got so much input from the kids, and we’re really going to be honest and give them some good tools to be able to help them deal with what’s going on.”

Romain, who uses humor as a tool to help teach coping methods to children, describes himself as “Monty Python meets Dr. Seuss at Jerry Seinfeld's house in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.”

“I found … that using humor has been something that’s really helped me a lot in my life,” he said during a recent Defense Department Joint Family Readiness Conference in Chicago. “Today [is] about … how do we find those ways to engage families and engage kids?

“There’s so many stories that I’ve heard along the way at the [military] bases,” he added. “It just astounds me.”

Students know he’s not a counselor, teacher or parent, but they come up to him after his talks and “just spill their guts,” he said.

“I was at a school and this young girl came up to me after my talk and she was standing there and she was sort of wringing her shirt. She was probably 6 or 7 years old,” he said. “She said to me, ‘Mr. Romain, can I tell you something?’”

The girl’s parents had divorced long ago, both were deployed and she’d been living with the mother’s new boyfriend who was about to deploy. The boyfriend’s grandmother had been looking after her, but had died two weeks earlier.

“She started to cry, and the counselor stood behind her and said, ‘I didn’t know,’” Romain said. “This child is going through probably the worst that a child can ever go though and nobody knew because [she] just did not know how to tell anybody … until I said to her, ‘You can talk.’”

While the little girl just needed to know it was alright to tell someone what was going on in her life, a boy in Aviano, Italy, needed a way to cope with his fear of making friends.

He told Romain he felt shaky inside when meeting new kids. So Romain started looking for something the boy could relate to that would help him with the situation. The boy said he liked watching shows about volcanoes on the National Geographic channel.

“I said to him, ‘Let’s try something. I want you to take all that … you’re feeling inside, that shakiness, that scaredness, that tummy boiling’ – he said, ‘Yeah, that’s how I feel’ – and imagine there is a volcano inside of you.

“I want you to feel that volcano,” Romain told him. “Take a deep breath, and if you can, push that volcano out the top of your head. Let it erupt.”

It took two tries before the boy let his feelings “explode” out of him.

“All of the sudden he opened his eyes and there was this big smile on his face,” Romain said. “I said, ‘How do you feel?’” to which the boy replied, “confident!”

Romain also offered tangible visual aids to use in teaching kids how to deal with a number of circumstances.

In one case, a book bag represented the angst and bad feelings a child can carry around and take out on others. He called on a volunteer to play a student with a chaotic, unhappy home life who picked on the new kid in school, played by Romain.

During the demonstration, the volunteer passed her anger – the bag – to Romain.

“She has unloaded. She feels much better. Now I’m walking around carrying [her] problems. I don’t even know who she is!” he said. “What I have to do is I have to go to a school counselor, a therapist, a parent, or somebody that I trust and I need to go to them and I need to say, ‘I have this problem. Can you help me with it?’”

This way, the child unloads the problem with someone who can handle it and who can help the person who passed it on in the first place.

For Romain and the children he talks to, a dollar bill represents their self-esteem, but the lesson is worth far more. To begin, he shows them a dollar bill and asks how much it’s worth. Then he wads it up and steps on it, smoothes it out and asks the same questions again.

Of course all the answers are the same.

“It’s really interesting to see the children’s eyes when they get it, that … I might be trampled upon sometime. I might be crumpled. I might be stepped on,” Romain said. “But inside, I am really me, and I can make a huge difference to my own life if I believe in myself.”

A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Romain has a personal perspective on what children can endure. He was challenged with dyslexia, but at some point realized that if he translated what he was supposed to remember into a picture, he could easily recall it.

It wasn’t until he was serving his mandatory two years of military service in the South African Army and had an experience with a severely injured child that he realized his desire to work with children.

Since then, he’s authored and illustrated dozens of books for children in grades 1 to 8, and created a number of videos, all to help children prepare for and deal with life’s ups and downs. When he’s not creating new materials, he travels the world talking with children in schools and hospitals.

Romain jokes that he and his wife “forgot to have kids.” Actually, they were unable, but Romain acknowledged he probably wouldn’t be able to do what he does, which takes him away from home for long stretches, if he had kids of his own.

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