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A Mom’s Story: Cheryl

“I didn’t jump right away to calling it “cancer”. Initially, I talked [to my kids] about having a blood disorder, and that might have been more for me than them, I wasn’t quite ready to use the cancer word myself.”

Multiple myeloma: those are the words Cheryl, mother of three, did not want her children to associate with the idea of mom. After seeing her family doctor for fatigue and excruciating back pain that nearly lead to tears with movement, Cheryl was faced with a diagnosis that could change her and her family’s life significantly.

“I can do most things. But at the pace of 60% of what a normal person could do. Basically I operate like a 70-year-old. If you wanted to picture it, look at my mom, and I have about the get-up-and-go that she has.”

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Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that is very difficult to treat, and requiring different combinations of medications to manage. Because of this, Cheryl requires regular doctor appointments, and as a result of her many medications, has been in and out of hospitals for complications.

“I’m in constant treatment. I’ll do one thing until that stops working, and then they’ll switch me to something else, till they run out of things to switch me to. The treatment I’m on now results me in having very low immunity to anything […] over the holidays, I was in hospital for shingles, meningitis, and an intestinal infection. Last march, I was in hospital for a week with pneumonia, and a blood infection. I don’t just get a cold, I get in terrible situations. [It’s] eye opening to me in terms of just how unreliable my body has become. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

With three children, ages 12, 9, 5, Cheryl and her husband were struggling to balance everything from the medical appointments, working, and taking care of the family, all on their own.

“My daughter was going to a program 2 days a week, which was the only way during the initial stages of me getting really sick that I could even manage, and I was just trying to fit all my appointments on those 2 days. The other 3 days, I was basically lying around feeling crappy and useless.”

Living a distance away from family, and feeling the increasing burden of asking for help from friends, Cheryl was able to turn to the Nanny Angel Network (NAN) for support. NAN understands how vulnerable women can feel when asking for help, and strives to ensure that all mothers feel welcome.

“[It’s] like a sense of not being entirely alone – we don’t have a lot of family support that’s available on a regular basis, so that made it very nice, to feel like there was someone you could call. And also, initially, I was very concerned about finances, and the fact that this was available, free of charge, was a huge benefit. Having someone routinely is really beneficial because then you have this ray of hope […] that one day you’re going to have a couple of hours to go get groceries or something without dragging your kids with you.”

Once Nanny Angels were able to step in, not only was Cheryl able to find more time to focus on her health, but she was also able to spend more quality time with her family.

“During the summer, [NAN visits] coordinated frequently with the day that my 12-year-old had his baseball games, so I was able to actually go see some of his baseball games, because if I go to a game with the other two kids, then there’s no actually watching the game happening. So I was able to watch some of his games which was nice for both of us.”

Cheryl shared how isolated she felt living with a chronic illness. With a little over two years since her diagnosis, Cheryl is still finding that small gestures of kindness can go a long way.

“You know what, it gets a little old. It gets a little old in the second year. People want to think you’re just fine. And we just get so used to this kind of new normal. But last week we had someone out of the blue show up with a great plate of lasagna, and I was really kind of shocked at just how much I appreciated that. Having access to NAN is like that. Sure, we are managing on our own, but when someone cares enough to give of themselves just to make my life a little easier and add enjoyment to the lives of my kids, it is very special. It’s more than a few hours to catch up on some errands, or rest, or even spend one-on-one time with one of my kids. It’s a reminder that there is good in this world and that even if I can’t be there for my children there are others who will be.”

Cheryl is just one of many moms who NAN helps support through their cancer treatment.

This Mother’s Day, please consider supporting NAN in honour of a mother in your life, and help us change the lives of mothers living with cancer.

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Text & Photos: Nanny Angel Network

NAN’s New Partnership

The Nanny Angel Network is so excited to announce their new partnership with Canadian fashion label Miik this Mother’s Day. Miik, a Canadian fashion label focused on making environmentally friendly clothing that suits all body types, has created a one-of-a-kind infinity scarf in its custom bamboo fabric just for the Nanny Angel Network! With 50% of profits going directly to NAN, this is truly a case of women helping and supporting other women. Miik is led by President Susan Cadman and co-founder Donna Smith, both Canadian moms who were touched when they learned about the Nanny Angel Network and the services that it provides to mothers with cancer in the GTA.

“Donna and I are both working moms and when we learned what the Nanny Angel Network does for Canadian women it really hit home for us,” says Cadman. “The NAN scarf is our way of supporting fellow Canadian moms who are going through the toughest of times.” Miik’s NAN scarf is an incredibly soft, tri-colour infinity scarf in fuchsia, charcoal, and soft pink, separated by a black stripe. Made using Miik’s custom-milled, luxury bamboo fabric it’s produced entirely in the GTA. “All of our manufacturing is done locally to reduce our carbon footprint and support local businesses. The NAN scarf is truly Canadian,” explains Cadman.

Designed by women, for women and with proceeds supporting women in need, the NAN scarf is a symbol of women coming together to care for each other when it’s needed most. “When a mother is diagnosed with cancer, often her first thought is about her children – who will care for them and how will she manage,” says Audrey Guth, Founder of the Nanny Angel Network. “NAN allows mothers to get the rest they need, while their children get the emotional support needed to thrive through this difficult time in their lives.” NAN’s Nanny Angels are childcare professionals who volunteer to provide support to a family throughout a mother’s cancer treatment, something that wouldn’t be possible without supporters like Miik.

“We’re so grateful that Miik has designed a scarf to support the Nanny Angel Network – the proceeds will help us to provide care to more moms in the GTA,” says Guth. Whether as a beautiful mother’s day gift or simply a stylish addition to your own wardrobe, the NAN scarf is a great way to support the Nanny Angel Network. Every scarf sold helps to provide free, specialized in-home childcare to mothers with cancer in the GTA.


Text: Jensine Jones     Photos: Miik

Blogging with Cancer


Blogging is becoming a growing hobby or past-time of many people, regardless of age, interests, and experiences. With studies showing that there are positive social effects to blogging, and in blogging about an illness specifically, the team at the Nanny Angel Network was curious about the experience of mothers who blog during their cancer treatment. Is there a community? Does it provide mothers with cancer another form of social support? With these questions in mind, NAN talked to Renee Kaiman, a blogger at My So-Called Mommy Life. Renee is a blogger, a mother, and a cancer survivor, and has benefited from the Nanny Angel Network over the past year.

Renee began blogging long before she received her diagnosis of breast cancer. In fact, she first began blogging to share her experiences as a mother. “I started blogging when my daughter was 9 months old,” Renee told NAN, explaining that all the research that she did while pregnant led to her becoming the person that her friends turned to with their questions. “A few people suggested I start a blog,” Renee said, adding “I’m so glad I did!” After her cancer diagnosis, Renee made the conscious decision not to change the way she blogged because of the cancer. “My blogging changed in that my blog now includes posts about my treatment as well as life with and after cancer,” she explained, but at the same time, she made an effort to give her readers “the same blog that I did before I was diagnosed.”

Making the decision to disclose her diagnosis to her audience wasn’t an easy one for Renee. “I wasn’t quite sure how I would disclose my diagnosis to anyone,” Renee said. “My closest family and friends knew but I sat on how I would tell everyone else for a while.” Eventually, she made the decision to share her diagnosis on her blog in the hopes that everyone she knew would read it. “I wanted my news to come from me. I didn’t want it to be a broken telephone type situation or one that included whispers,” Renee explained. “I think it also was the right thing to do because I was young, only 33, and pretty much the first person in my social circles to receive this diagnosis.” On the 1st of April, 2015, while sitting in the waiting room for her first round of chemotherapy, a post called ‘When life hands you cancer’ went live on Renee’s blog.

Renee had another reason for wanting to share her diagnosis with her blogging audience. “I decided to share my experience to show that although cancer is scary it can happen to anyone,” Renee said, “I’ve shared a lot of personal experiences about cancer, and I have been contacted by many other young mothers with breast cancer who have read my blog and could relate to my words.” When she was first diagnosed, Renee attempted to find other young woman bloggers with cancer diagnoses, but didn’t have much luck. “I hope that other young woman will find the solace that I was looking for,” Renee said, emphasizing how much it means to her when woman with cancer reading her blog do reach out to her. “It reminds me that what I’m doing is helpful to others moms,” she said.

“Even though I was surrounded by so many supportive people, you don’t often sit down and discuss your fears. My blog has given me an outlet to share my deepest feelings with those who know me and those who don’t.”

Renee believes that her blog and Instagram both played significant roles in changing her experience of cancer. “The support I have received has been amazing and so many fellow bloggers have been so incredibly supportive of me,” Renee stated. “It gave me an outlet to share how I felt. Whether it was sharing my initial diagnosis, to the night before my double mastectomy, I was able to share and let people know how I was feeling,” Renee said, adding that it made her feel supported through the most difficult parts of her cancer treatment. “I always received amazing feedback which let me know I was doing the right thing.”

There was a final reason for Renee to continue blogging through her cancer treatment, and her choice to openly discuss her cancer treatment on her blog. “Part of me also blogged during my treatment so that if anything should ever happen to me…  my kids [would] know from my words how I really felt during this whole thing,” Renee said. Overall, she hopes the message people get from her blog is a positive one. “I’m a mom like most of my readers who got a shitty diagnosis,” Renee explains. “Instead of letting it ruin my life, I decided to face it head on and not let it dictate my life. Cancer will always be a part of who I am now, but it isn’t all that I am.”


Renee Kaiman has been blogging at My So-Called Mommy Life since 2012. The 35-year-old mother of two is a breast cancer survivor, and a recent graduate from NAN’s Nanny Angels program. You can find her online at her blog, twitter, and Instagram.

Text: Jensine Jones      Photos: Nanny Angel Network
Sources: Journal of Health CommunicationCommunication ResearchHealth Blogging

Volunteering in Retirement

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The Nanny Angel Network joins organizations across Canada this week in celebrating National Volunteer Week and recognizing the incredible volunteers who give so generously of their time and energy to make a real difference in the lives of those who need it the most. NAN’s volunteers come from all walks of life, including students, teachers, nurses, ECEs, and even retirees.

Choosing to volunteer your time in retirement comes with a host of benefits. From providing a transition from working life to retired life, to giving you a sense of purpose, to connecting you to a network of other volunteers, there are many ways in which volunteering as a retiree can improve your life. There are even health benefits – former director of the Centre on Aging at the University of Victoria, Neena Chappell, reports that retirees who volunteer, “especially if it involves helping others, are happier and healthier in their later years.”

Dianne Levy is a retired teacher who has been volunteering with the Nanny Angel Network since early 2015. She says that she decided to begin volunteering because she “wanted to help others and give back to the community.” When asked why she choose NAN over other organizations, Dianne replied that she picked NAN because she could see the need for the Nanny Angel Network in the community, and was impressed by Audrey, the founder of the organization. She added that Angel’s make an incredible difference in the lives of families going through cancer treatment and recovery.

Dianne has been volunteering almost as long as she has been retired, giving her a firm grasp on what volunteering in retirement is like. “If you have the time and you want to give back and enjoy the feeling of giving, do it,” Dianne said when asked what she would say to someone who is about to retire and is thinking about volunteering. “There is no better feeling than to be needed and appreciated.” Dianne also emphasized that choosing an organization that is a good fit for you is important when deciding whether or not to volunteer in retirement. “To be an Angel you have to be a certain type of individual,” she said. “Not everyone I know would be suited to this type of volunteer position.” Of course, the Nanny Angel Network has plenty of volunteer positions beyond Nanny Angels, including providing help in the office as well as roles around fundraising.

We also asked Dianne if she had a favourite story from her time volunteering with NAN that she’d like to share, and she was happy to tell us all about the kids she works with.

One story makes me laugh. We go to the park when the weather is conducive for playing outdoors. The two children I work with are 6 and 3. We play pretend. In their eyes, I am a kid, not a grandmother. They asked me to climb the monkey bars.  I am a Princess, a Queen, a fireman, and a witch. Their imaginations are endless. Little are they aware that my joints are not what they used to be. In their minds, they think I am a youngster with unlimited energy and dexterity. It makes me laugh because in a few years, I will be an old lady to them, but now, I am just a kid.

Dianne told NAN that volunteering has really taught her a lot, including patience and understanding. “It has brought out my imagination. Volunteering has channeled the child in me. I have become a better person. I have learned to be grateful and to cherish ALL moments.” When asked if she had any last comments, Dianne emphasized again how important she sees the work that NAN does. “I think the Nanny Angel Network is truly amazing,” she says, adding, “I just wish more people were aware of this agency because there is such a great need for this service.”

The Nanny Angel Network is always looking for new Nanny Angels to join our team of dedicated volunteers! To become a Nanny Angel, you must have one year of recent professional childcare experience, which can include being a professional nanny, nursing, teaching, social work, or a student currently enrolled in programs for careers involving childcare. You must also be a legal resident of Canada, physically and mentally fit to provide unsupervised care for children, a minimum of 18 years of age, have a clear vulnerable sector police check (which can be arranged through NAN)), current CPR and First Aid training (also can be arranged through NAN), and two references related to childcare experience. The Nanny Angel Network also provides specialized training for all of our volunteers, which includes a seminar on Grief and Loss with Andrea Warnick.

If you’d like to become a Nanny Angel with NAN, fill out our online application!

Dianne Levy

Dianne Levy photographed by Omar Duragos

Text: Jensine Jones       Sources: theglobeandmail.com

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

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Are you looking to reach a personal fitness goal in 2016? Or perhaps looking for a family-friendly race to get your kids active and giving back?

NAN is excited to announce that it is one of the charities that you can fundraise for as a participant of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon! On October 16, tens of thousands of people will take to Toronto’s streets to participate in the annual 5k, half marathon, and full marathon races.

For the first time ever, NAN will be putting together a team of runners, with fundraising dollars going directly to supporting our Nanny Angels and mothers through our programming.

“We are so excited to launch this new opportunity. The run is a fun and family-friendly way to get involved and support the tremendous efforts of our Nanny Angel volunteers,” says NAN Founder, Audrey Guth. While this is a new program for NAN, it is our goal to raise $7,000 with the help of our supporters.

No matter your age, or if you like to run or walk, all are welcome to join us! As a member of our team, you will benefit from a special edition NAN t-shirt, fundraising support and assistance, as well as a special invitation to a pre-race dinner where you will meet our Founder and hear from the people who can speak to the benefit of your support – our moms.

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Text: Rebecca Babcock            Photos: Nanny Angel Network

In Sickness

In Sickness

Supporting someone you love when they’ve been diagnosed with cancer is difficult. Worrying about saying the wrong thing, their emotional state, and what will happen to your relationship all factor into your interactions with them from the moment they tell you about their diagnosis. It is inevitable that you may say or do something that negatively impacts your loved one with cancer. Depending on their personality and your relationship, they may not tell you when you do something wrong.

Luckily, other cancer patients don’t have that problem! There is a wealth of online articles discussing the do’s and don’ts of interacting with your loved one who is sick, which can be overwhelming. However, there are several points that come up again and again when discussing how best to be there for your loved one with cancer. We have collected the most essential pieces together in this list of how to best be there for your loved one:

Do: take your cues from them. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push them into a conversation they aren’t prepared for or don’t want to have. Asking someone to share details about their treatment and what is happening to their body is intensely personal.

Don’t: share your cancer story. Telling someone who has been diagnosed with cancer about how your mother-in-law died of cancer is not helpful… and might send the wrong message about what you think their chances of survival are.

Do: let them know you care, that you will be there for them, and that you will support them in whatever capacity they need… even if that doesn’t match what you think they need.

Don’t: ask how they are. People with cancer are constantly inundated with questions about their health, their disease, their state of mind… and it is exhausting. Let them know that you’re there for them if they want to talk, but don’t push.

Do: include them in normal social events, but also be understanding if they have to cancel or decline.

Don’t: try to be empathetic by saying you understand how they feel. Sympathize, but don’t compare your experiences and feelings to theirs if you have never had cancer. Phrases such as “I can’t imagine how you feel” are far more meaningful, and real, than “I know exactly how you feel”.

Do: listen without adding your own input. This can be challenging, but can also be so meaningful to someone who is sick.

Don’t: recommend a miracle cure you found on the internet. Just… don’t.

Do: avoid platitudes such as “everything happens for a reason” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” that don’t mean much… and that they’re constantly hearing from everyone else in their life.

Don’t: tell them to stay positive, or any other message that tells the cancer patient to regulate their outward displays of their emotions. “Stay positive”, “you’re so strong”, and “you’re so brave” all communicate to cancer patients that they can’t reveal their real moods to you without judgement, that they can’t display any weakness, and that they are at fault for their own illness because they weren’t upbeat enough.

Do: respect their decisions when it comes to their treatment and their health.

All of this advice boils down to one simple principle: this is not about you, but the person with cancer. This idea is encapsulated by the Ring Theory, developed by Susan Silk, a clinical psychologist, when she had breast cancer. It uses rings in a circle to designate proximity to a trauma, with the person experiencing the trauma (in this case, cancer) in the very centre. The person in the centre ring can say whatever they want about their trauma. So can everyone else – but only to people in the larger rings. When talking to someone in a smaller ring than yours, the goal is to help, to listen and provide comfort and support.

Ultimately, this is the most important thing you can do for someone with cancer. Mistakes in language, phrasing, and terminology are inevitable and understandable, and very much forgiveable. Being mindful of the impact your words can have, listening carefully to what your loved one is saying, and being there for them throughout their treatment is the most important thing you can do for your loved one with cancer.

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Sources: cancer.org | cancer.ca | caring.com | abc.net.au | latimes.com
Text: Jensine Jones            Photos: emilymcdowell.com

A New Way To Give

There are a growing number of ways to support your favourite causes, from donating at point of sale to fundraising through events. With some organizations, you can even donate your used vehicle! The Nanny Angel Network has just added another way for you to support them, thanks to their partners at Shoppers Drug Mart. Now, by using your Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum Card, you can help NAN get the supplies and resources they need for programming simply by donating your points!

A large-format Shoppers Drug Mart store: the Company's 1000th store opened in 2007 in Toronto. (CNW Group/Shoppers Drug Mart Corporation)

I talked to NAN’s Stewardship Officer, Rebecca Babcock, about this new program, and why NAN has chosen to partner with Shoppers Drug Mart for this new and different way of giving. In our conversation, Rebecca was quick to emphasize how important donations are to the continued operation of the Nanny Angel Network, stating that “donations are the lifeblood of NAN. They are important to running our programs and necessary to bring our Nanny Angels to families across the GTA.” Without the help of donations, it would be impossible for NAN to provide their free, specialized in-home relief childcare to mothers’ with cancer in Toronto and throughout the GTA.

Rebecca delved into what benefits there are for donors in giving their Optimum Points as compared to other methods, stating “the Optimum Points program is an awesome opportunity for the person who can’t give financially right now to contribute to a cause they are passionate about.” She emphasized, however, that this program isn’t just for people who can’t afford to give through traditional methods. “For the donor looking to go above and beyond in their contributions, this is a great way to have an impact,” she said, adding that “sharing your rewards allows us to purchase necessary items and gift cards.”

This new program doesn’t just have benefits for NAN’s supporters. “Shoppers Drug Mart is a proud partner of the Nanny Angel Network, and we are thrilled to have this program as part of our partnership,” Rebecca said. She went on to explain why charities are now choosing to utilize new and non-traditional giving methods. Rebecca commented that “giving people more ways to give allows us to engage more people and expand our impact.” When asked what NAN hopes to achieve by implementing this program, Rebecca focused on the ways it allows NAN to engage new people. “As technology grows and our interactions change, we want to provide as many opportunities as possible for supporters to have an impact.”

The Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum Points program in particular is an easy avenue to engage supporters, as rewards programs are something that most people are already familiar with. “Being able to gift those rewards to causes we care about is a great way to turn your every day actions into ongoing philanthropy,” Rebecca explained, adding that they hope this program will help with the cost of supplies for their Nanny Angels. Nanny Angels go out to client’s homes with their famous Green Bag stocked full of toys and supplies for the children, and they can always use more, which is where the Optimum Points will come in. “This program will help us with the cost of supplies, especially through gift cards, toys, and other supplies,” Rebecca concluded.

Interested in donating your Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum Points? It’s easy! Simply log into your Optimum Account on www.shoppersdrugmart.ca and click the Donate/Transfer Points tab. From there, simply scroll down the list of charitable partners until you find NAN. Enter the amount and just like that, your points will be transferred to their card to help with purchases to support their programming!

Text: Jensine Jones           Photo: CNW Group/Shoppers Drug Mart Corporation

A Few of My Favourite Things

A cancer diagnosis has many effects that impact both patients and their families. Stress, side-effects of medical treatments, and running to and from various appointments often leaves parents struggling to match their children’s energy levels. Part of the service Nanny Angels provide when they visit families is therefore allowing children to interact with an adult who has the energy to keep up with them. With this in mind NAN asked Connie Jones, a child development facilitator who works primarily with preschoolers, for her favourite activities to do with kids that are fun and educational. These toys and activities are perfect for either a parent who doesn’t have the energy to run around after their kids or for a Nanny Angel wanting to engage children in educational and fun play.

Below, Connie offers her advice on how to pick games for preschoolers and shares some of her favourites.

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When choosing games for preschoolers, it is important to choose games that are age appropriate. All parties, adult and child alike, lose interest quickly when the game is too difficult or complicated for the players. Look for games which have simple, straightforward rules and game play. If the set up takes a long time, or there are too many things to remember, far too much energy goes into figuring out how to play the game. Adaptability to different ages and levels of play is also very important, especially when going to a home with multiple children of different ages. A great game can be modified easily to accommodate different skill levels and interests. Finally, factor in what interests the child. This is a big consideration if you have a reluctant or very new game player. Children are much more likely to be engaged and enthusiastic if it is related to something that interests them.

I have pulled out some example games from my toy cupboard. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does represent games that I play with children over and over again, 10 months of the year.

Zingo (ages 4-8) is a child’s bingo type game utilizing picture tiles. This game offers opportunity for image and vocabulary recognition, matching, memory, concentration, and turn-taking. It is a game that moves fast enough that even the youngest player can usually stay engaged while waiting for their own turn.


Zimbbos (ages 3+) is a wooden elephant and circus animal stacking game. This game promotes balancing skills, dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. The elephants can be stacked in numerical order which offers opportunity for counting and number recognition. For younger players, colour recognition can be utilized. Children can be creative and imaginative in their solutions to making the elephant tower. Positional concepts can be discussed as to who is on the bottom, who is on the top, who is beside and so on. Be prepared, however, for the inevitable crashing tower.

Pigzup (ages 4 and up) is another stacking game that children really enjoy. Cards are used to match numbers and then the race is on to stack the pigs. There are 8 adorable pigs with little felt ears and curly tails. They are not as easy to stack as one might think. There is an option to play with a die that adds more challenge to the game. This game is great for fine motor development, dexterity, and number and colour recognition.

pig game

Spot it Jr.! (ages 4 and up) is a card game in a tin. There are a numerous variations of Spot It!, some much more difficult than others. I have been using the animals edition. Each player flips over a card and tries to spot the animal common to both cards. It is more difficult than you think! This is a fast paced game that helps to develop attention, visual perception, speech-language, and fine motor skills (flipping cards can be challenging!) It is also a very portable game, easily slipped into a bag or purse.

spot it jr

Lego, Duplo, or other age-appropriate building pieces (ages 3-4). Building blocks with a couple of little people or animals can provide hours of imaginative entertainment. Pushing the plastic pieces together and apart helps develop hand and finger strength. A couple of figures provides opportunity for imaginative dialogue and play situations.


Art supplies could be a very long list; however, an easy and portable solution is paper with a variety of different mark making implements. Offer crayons, chalk, pencil crayons, pastels, etc. If desired, include glue and a selection of objects for collage. I have found that when I sit and work on my own art, children are drawn to the activity. Once the piece is completed, you might ask the child to tell you about their picture.

Memory games can be found in many shapes and sizes. I have discovered a couple of good quality ones at local thrift shops. I have found that children are really good at them, much better than me! In most memory games one can use as many or as few pairs as one likes to make the game fun and successful for the child.


Puzzles choices are best made considering what is appropriate for a child’s age and skill level. Try to find puzzles that are flat and in good condition. It is frustrating and time consuming to cope with cupped and deformed puzzle pieces. Puzzles offer the opportunity to develop problem solving skills, memory, fine motor skills, pattern recognition, and patience.


Dolls and puppets offer opportunities for imaginative play and dialogue. When working with children in the health care setting, I found that they were often able to tell my puppet much more than they were willing to tell me. I also found that explaining procedures and expectations to the doll or puppet while the child looked on gave the child time to observe and digest information, giving them the opportunity to process the information and watch the procedure prior to them being part of the scenario.

Books, books, books. There are so many wonderful children’s books, it is impossible to choose favourites. I was looking for a book one day for a baby shower, having been asked to bring my “favourite” children’s book as a gift. The clerk asked what my favourite book was and I informed her that I hadn’t found it yet. She directed me to Sparky!, the story of a little girl who mail orders a sloth for a pet. Sparky isn’t very good at fetch, hide and seek, or the other games the girl tries to play with him, but he is irresistible. I brought Sparky! to the shower and have since given it to a couple more little humans.

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Reading books to a child offers a special time to cuddle and share a story. This can be done in so many ways. The words can be read, the pictures can be looked at and commented on, children can ‘read’ to the adult. Questions can be asked. What do you think will happen next? Do you remember what happened first? You can also check in about a child’s understanding of the vocabulary.

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Books can be chosen for their topics focusing on feelings, friends, kindness, and so on. It is wonderful if the book is appealing to both the adult as well as the child. That being said, I do find that I am always being surprised by books, and sometimes the ones that are not so appealing at first become new favourites. When children are not particularly interested in books, one can add interest or a ‘hook’ that might grab attention. For example, if reading a story about magic pebbles, one might offer the child a special, polished magic pebble of their own. I like to have little popsicle puppets or actual little scenes that add a play element to the book. After handling and playing with the manipulative, the child is often motivated to tell the story on their own.

If I had to pick one item to share with children above all others, I think it would have to be books!

Connie Jones is a former nurse who currently works as a child development facilitator on an early intervention team. She works with families who have three to four-year-olds with developmental delays, working both in children’s homes and in a preschool setting. You can find her online on her crafting blog.

Text: Connie Jones and Jensine Jones           Photos: Connie Jones
Books pictured: If You Plant A Seed by Kadir Nelson, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow, The Colour Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas.

Grief and Loss

On a chilly Sunday in late February I found myself wandering around the basement of the Toronto General Hospital in search of the ELLICSR centre. Inside, I found a lovely and warm space in which I would spend the next eight hours.

I was at the centre to attend Grief and Loss training as part of the Nanny Angel Network’s volunteer training program. Though I am not a nanny, I was there to see what nannies going through the required training learn. The seminar is hosted by NAN every other month, and is taught by Andrea Warnick. Andrea is a nurse psychotherapist, educator, and thanatologist with twenty years of experience in supporting grieving children and families.

As Andrea introduced herself, she explained that she first began to explore issues surrounding death and dying when working as a nurse. Working on the frontline of healthcare and regularly interacting with bereaved families, Andrea realized that medical personnel were not receiving sufficient training in how to talk to kids about cancer, death, and grief. Though there was a wealth of research surrounding kids and death, from how to talk to kids about death to how to recognize and help with children’s grief, this research was not being put into practice.


It is no surprise, when one considers our general cultural-wide discomfort with the subject of death, that we would be bad at speaking about it with children. Parents understandably want to protect their children from news of a serious illness, and especially from the death of a loved one. They worry about the impact a death, whether of a parent or of a loved one, will have upon their child. With this in mind, they will often avoid speaking to their children about the approaching death, attempting to spare the child from trauma.

Study after study has shown, however, that the opposite is true. The best way to protect children from being negatively impacted by the death of a loved one is to prepare them for it. Instead of not speaking about it with children, discussing it openly and in age appropriate terms helps children psychologically cope with the death of a loved one both during their childhood and as adults. Grief is something that never really leaves us, though we may cope with it differently at different ages.

While Andrea discussed the complexities and difficulties of discussing death with children of all ages, in the end she summed it up in a few central principles. Be honest with your child. Use simple, but correct language –  euphemisms can be confusing, especially if a child is still at an age where they take everything very literally. Foster an environment where they can ask questions. They might not be asking questions only because they are picking up on the fact that the adults don’t want to discuss it. Finally, be prepared to not have all the answers. You aren’t going to mess your child up forever because you didn’t know the answer to one of their questions. Do some research, or wonder at life’s mysteries with them.

Children’s concerns around cancer and death often fall into four central questions – did I cause it? Can I catch it? Can I cure it? And who is going to take care of me? Explaining cancer to a child involves answering these four questions, using real terms, and explaining what is going on in as much detail as the child can comprehend… if the child wants! Ultimately, the level of explanation depends on the kid, and how much they want to know.



After the death of a loved one, children will grieve and mourn just as adults do, though their grieving will look different from an adult’s grief. Play is often part of a child’s grieving, as well as moving between intense sadness and normal happiness. It is important to discuss, encourage, and model the expression of all emotions, in a range of healthy ways. If a child is expressing their grief through inappropriate behaviours, feel free to correct those behaviours, but it is important to distinguish between the emotions and the behaviours ­– the emotions are not the problem. Offer children the chance to talk, but don’t force them to if they don’t want to, and help them develop rituals to stay connected to their deceased loved one.

Ultimately, every person is different, and every child is going to react to illness and death differently. The important thing to remember is that even young children are fully capable of understanding cancer and death – if the adults in their lives explain it to them and are prepared to take the time to engage with them fully on their level. I left the course with a far greater understanding of the importance of creating safe spaces for children and fostering honest conversations with them. The knowledge Nanny Angels gain from this seminar allows them to do just this. If the children they are visiting want to talk to their Nanny Angel about the things they are afraid to discuss with their parents, our volunteers are prepared.

For more information and resources on how to help children cope with grief and loss, check out Andrea Warnick’s website and follow the conversation at #nanGL on twitter, where we regularly post links to resources and community programs designed to help bereaved children.

Text: Jensine Jones          Photos: Becka Soyka