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05.11.2023 | כא חשון התשפד

Bear Care for Kids' Emotional Support

BIU expands "Teddy Bear Hospital” project to help children cope with emotional stress during the war


In the midst of Israel’s war with Hamas, Bar-Ilan University has launched an initiative designed to provide emotional support for children in a unique way: The "Teddy Bear Hospital" project enables children to care for dolls, express their emotions and learn basic medical concepts, within a warm, supportive environment.

The Teddy Bear Hospital has been operating in recent years at Bar-Ilan University’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine, and has been expanded in recent weeks, to help children cope with emotions they experience during the war. The expansion of the project was initiated by Prof. Orly Avni, Dean of the BIU Azrieli Faculty of Medicine, and in collaboration with the BIU Department of Psychology and the Weisfeld School of Social Work, as well as Freddy Singer of the Matat Foundation.

During the first month of the war, three sessions took place, which were attended by hundreds of children aged 3-12. During the meetings, Bar-Ilan students played with the children individually or in small groups, helping them cope with everyday anxieties resulting from the current reality, by treating the dolls. Children and parents were taught breathing exercises and activities they could utilize in times of stress, during an emergency siren, or while staying in a shelter.

The project includes an “emotion” room and medical facilities such as ultrasound and plaster dressing for "injured" teddy bears. Medical students demonstrated various treatment options on the dolls, reducing fear and the feeling of uncertainty in the face of frightening medical procedures. Along with the students, professionals from various BIU faculties were present - Dr. Tamar Zilberg, Dr. Tali Gev, and Prof. Rachel Dekel, who developed the unique treatment protocol.

Bar Sudai, a 6-year-old from Petach Tikva said, after spending time in the “emotion” room with psychology students: "When the teddy bear is a little stressed in the shelter, you can blow soap bubbles and pet it. Sometimes when it's scared, you can hug it and say that the Iron Dome protects us.”

Lial Strom, the mother of three-year-old Sinai, who arrived after being evacuated from Kibbutz Sa'ad, shared: "This is the first time since October 7th that my son agrees to talk to a professional. He was happy and calm with the therapeutic tools and games, and we, as parents, received valuable tips to handle stressful situations".

During one of the sessions, children from Israel’s south and central regions had to enter the shelter. Yael Golan, the event producer from the BIU Department of Psychology, said that the entry into the shelter was carried out

calmly, and that in the shelter, many children were observed practicing activities that were learned just a few minutes earlier.

Prof. Noa Vilchinsky of the BIU Department of Psychology concluded: "The reactions from the children and parents are heart-warming. We are told that the children practice the tools they learned at home, even during emergency sirens. Children remind the parents what to do and even mention the activities in their kindergartens and schools.”

Bar-Ilan University plans to expand the project in the near future and send the volunteers to various centers throughout Israel, so that children can care for teddy bears in other places, learn medical concepts and enjoy an empowering experience.