On a wintery day in Perth I am planning the next steps and dreams of Sunflower and Ivy, including some steps into the world of children’s gifts and emotional resilience. It’s been a long term plan of mine to steer a little part of the Sunflower and Ivy store into the world of children, after all it’s my area of expertise and passion when it comes to my art therapy practice. It seems fitting then that today, as I am mapping out these plans, I am
also publishing an interview with the lovely Linda from little wuppy®. Linda has created the perfect little plush friend for children feeling vulnerable, worried or struggling with anxiety. But I’ll let her tell you more about it.
Linda, can you introduce us to little wuppy® and what your mission is?
Firstly, thank you so much, Liana, for taking the time to chat with me, I truly appreciate it.
And hello to everyone reading Liana’s amazing blog!!
My name is Linda and I’m the owner + designer of the little wuppy®. I am a former primary school teacher and current anxiety sufferer. After resigning from teaching due to my severe anxiety and panic attacks, I started to feel quite lost; like I no longer had purpose. I had spent six years helping and teaching children and I really missed the connection I had with them once I resigned.
After chatting with friends of children with anxiety, seeing it firsthand within the classroom, and experiencing anxiety in my own life, I decided I wanted to help children manage the overwhelming thoughts and feelings associated with worry and anxiety.
So, I designed the little wuppy® – a sausage dog worry puppy aid designed to help ease children’s worries and help comfort them. Children are encouraged to send their worries to the little wuppy® by placing its heart against their own. It is backed with soft minky fabric, too, which is a great tool for those children who seek textured surfaces for tactile comfort. And little wuppy® proudly holds an Australian Made licence – all little wuppy® products are made right here in Aus. I love to support local small businesses.
Through little wuppy® my mission is threefold;
- to help children manage their thoughts and feelings (which in turn helps families)
- to provide a safe and comfortable space for children and their families to chat openly about worry, anxiety and other mental health issues
- to help break down the ugly stigma associated with mental health issues
I love that you are honest about your own experience with anxiety, it’s a tough thing to live with. How has it shaped your life and business choices?
Thank you, Liana. I didn’t realise how helpful speaking openly about my anxiety would be. It means that I’m never hiding behind it. My family and friends can see when I am anxious and are there to support me. I strongly encourage people to have a conversation with someone (anyone) if they’re not feeling like themselves. It has helped me tremendously.
I have been anxious since childhood; I hated change, was (and still am) a perfectionist and order and routine is very important in my day to day life. Over the years, my anxiety manifested in different forms; from obsessive compulsive behaviours, to migraines, to anxiety triggered by certain situations, to fears and phobias, and most recently, panic attacks.
Because anxiety and panic attacks can be quite debilitating, exhausting and embarrassing, I resigned from teaching. I was almost house bound for a good part of a year, and decided to work from home as that’s where I felt safest. I started an online business creating personalised artwork for children’s rooms, and after 5 years, I decided to close that business to focus my energy on developing the little wuppy®. Helping children is still my passion, even after teaching.
To help support my new venture, I decided I was ready to seek work in the ‘real world’. This was both a daunting and exciting time for me as I had not been employed by someone else since the end of 2009. I wanted to work somewhere close to home (as driving on highways was/is causing me anxiety) and I needed to work in an air-conditioned environment (as heat is another of my triggers). I have now been working in retail for nearly two years, an
d it has been so much fun. I didn’t realise how much I missed chatting with people and making connections. It has been such a privilege helping people, via both little wuppy® and in my retail position.
I love the symbolism of the wuppy, it’s like a modern twist on the Guatemalan worry doll. It’s easily transported and relatable because it’s a puppy. Dogs have inherent therapeutic qualities in real life- is this why you chose to use a dog at the centre of the design? Was there a specific reason you chose the sausage dog?
Full disclosure here, Liana: I am sausage dog obsessed!! My husband and I have both a Labrador and a sausage dog at home, and as you have mentioned, dogs have such therapeutic qualities. During my time at home after resigning from teaching, our puppies really did help to lift my mood and wellbeing. They were, and still are, a calming and happy presence in our lives.
And apart from being obsessed with sausage dogs, much thought went into using the sausage dog’s shape and attributes to design the little wuppy®.
Sausage dogs are brave and strong, despite their size.
They are clever and can sense when something isn’t right.
They have big, long ears and excellent hearing, so they are great listeners.
They have very short legs which means they can’t go too far, so they’ll always be close by.
When they are happy, their tails wag and wag which makes you smile.
And their hearts are full of love and loyalty which is just what y
ou’d want a companion to be; loving and loyal.
For parents who might be a little uncertain about encouraging a school aged child to utilise the support of a plush aid can you explain some of the ways you encourage the wuppy and its accessories to be used?
The little wuppy® has been specifically designed for kinder to primary school aged children (so ages 3+ to tween age). The little wuppy® is small enough to hold in one hand, to be popped into a pocket, pencil case or school bag, or even tucked under a pillow at night.The colours used are neutral to allow the little wuppy® to be more discrete, and the simplistic shape/design was chosen to avoid overwhelming an already anxious child.
If a child prefers not to have a puppy aid at school, they can hang a little wuppy™ worry catcher key ring to their bags or pencil cases. These key rings are small wooden discs etched with the little wuppy® design of their choice.There are also larger little wuppy™ worry catchers available which can be hung in a bedroom, on a wall hook, from a shelf or on a door handle. The idea of the little wuppy® is for a child to feel comforted, so there are multiple options for children who may feel self-conscious or embarrassed about using an aid to help with their worries. little wuppy® is all about helping a child manage their thoughts and feelings in whatever way works best for them.
There is a lot of debate about mental health concerns and whether they are on the rise. I personally feel that the increase is from a combination of people speaking out and the consequence of some of our cultural and social pressures. What are your thoughts? You used to be a school teacher -did you notice a lot of anxiety in the classroom?
I agree with you, Liana. I think we are hearing more about mental health issues because more and more people are choosing to speak honesty and openly about them. Although there is still a horrible stigma surrounding mental health issues, I truly believe that through powerful social media campaigns and positive influencers in the media, awareness, education and support of people with mental health issues is on the rise. A big YAY to that!
We are living in a more face paced world, filled with pressure fr
om others (and ourselves) to always perform at better than our best. This pressure was definitely seen in the classroom.
Children have many different ways of expressing their worries and anxieties. And more often than not, children don’t actually understand why they are feeling the way they do. Worry and anxiety can cause frustration, fear, less-than-desired behaviour, sadness and isolation. To help children understand and manage their thoughts and feelings, I was extremely passionate about teaching and learning about the Habits of Mind, Emotional Intelligence, and encouraging mindfulness through wellbeing. I was also (and still am) extremely committed to encouraging children to embrace who they are and what they love. Each child has something uniquely awesome to contribute to the world, and it’s so important for children to love themselves and their talents. This self-confidence and pride has a direct impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
Linda, you speak about smiling a lot on Instagram. You also seem a pretty optimistic person despite the weight of anxiety. Why do you think smiling is so important in balancing out anxiety?
It’s so humbling that you would pick up on that, Liana, thank you. As a teacher, I had a ‘Happy Zone’ in my classrooms. These zones would be filled with images of smiley faces, positive quotes and the colour yellow. There were poems and movie quotes about smiling, too. There are many health benefits to smiling; smiling makes you happy, and when you’re happy, the brain releases endorphins that help to lower stress and anxiety, and boost your mood and wellbeing. Plus, on most occasions, if you smile at someone else, they usually smile, too, and that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. A smile is a great thing to share; that’s why the little wuppy® has a little grin on its face, too.
And lastly, where can people find more of little wuppy®?
And as I understand how overwhelming anxiety can be for adults, and children, my inbox is always open if people ever want to chat. I want people to know they are never alone. I’m always here if you need someone to talk to.
Thank you so much for having a chat with me, Liana. I feel very humbled to be featured by you and love what you doing to strengthen the wellbeing of children.