BIU extends the reach of their “Teddy Bear Hospital” initiative to support children dealing with emotional strain amidst the ongoing conflict

Amidst the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, Bar-Ilan University has introduced a heartwarming initiative aimed at offering emotional support to children. The “Teddy Bear Hospital” project allows children to nurture dolls, express their feelings, and gain a basic understanding of medical concepts in a nurturing and comforting setting.

A new initiative at Bar-Ilan University’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine, known as the Teddy Bear Hospital, has been providing support to children during the war by helping them navigate their emotions. The project’s expansion was spearheaded by Prof. Orly Avni, the Dean of the BIU Azrieli Faculty of Medicine, in collaboration with the BIU Department of Psychology and the Weisfeld School of Social Work, along with Freddy Singer of the Matat Foundation.

Throughout the initial month of the conflict, three gatherings were held, with the participation of numerous children between the ages of 3 and 12. During the meetings, Bar-Ilan students interacted with the children one-on-one or in small groups, providing support to help them navigate the challenges of their daily lives, using dolls as a therapeutic tool. Children and parents received valuable instruction on breathing exercises and activities that can be used during moments of stress, emergency sirens, or while seeking refuge in a shelter.

The project features a room dedicated to emotions and also provides medical facilities, including ultrasound and plaster dressing, for teddy bears that may have suffered injuries. Medical students showcased a range of treatment options on the dolls, alleviating fear and uncertainty surrounding daunting medical procedures. Accompanying the students were professionals from different faculties at BIU – Dr. Tamar Zilberg, Dr. Tali Gev, and Prof. Rachel Dekel, who were instrumental in developing the innovative treatment protocol.

A 6-year-old named Bar Sudai from Petach Tikva shared their experience in a room focused on emotions with psychology students. Bar mentioned that when a teddy bear in the shelter is feeling stressed, blowing soap bubbles and petting it can help. Sometimes, when feeling frightened, one can embrace it and be reassured that we are protected by the Iron Dome.

Lial Strom, a mother of a three-year-old named Sinai, recently spoke about her son’s progress after being evacuated from Kibbutz Sa’ad. She mentioned that it was a significant breakthrough for him to finally open up to a professional after not speaking since October 7th. He found great comfort and relaxation in the therapeutic tools and games, and as parents, we gained valuable insights on managing challenging situations.

During one of the sessions, children from different parts of Israel had to seek shelter. According to Yael Golan, an event producer from the BIU Department of Psychology, the shelter entry was successfully executed.

In the shelter, numerous children were seen calmly practicing activities they had recently learned.

Prof. Noa Vilchinsky of the BIU Department of Psychology concluded that the responses from the children and parents are truly heartwarming. It has been reported that the children diligently apply the skills they acquired at home, even in the midst of emergency sirens. Children serve as a helpful reminder for parents, keeping them informed about the activities happening in their kindergartens and schools.

Bar-Ilan University is looking to expand the project in the near future and send volunteers to different centres across Israel. This will allow children in other locations to care for teddy bears, learn about medical concepts, and have an empowering experience.