Dr. Elena Merenda (RECE), PhD
Director and Child Development Specialist
My name is Dr. Elena Merenda and I am the owner and sole consultant at Children’s Healing Studio Ltd. I have more than 15 years of experience in early learning and therapeutic settings. My background is in early childhood education, with a specific expertise in therapeutic play and supporting families with children who have special needs, including terminal illness, grief, and diagnosed disabilities.
Opening a Children’s Healing Studio Ltd. focused on supporting children through the grieving process has always been a personal and professional goal of mine because my father died when I was sixteen years old and support from my teachers and community was nonexistent. My father was diagnosed with Lymphoma. His cancer began with a tumor on his spine and one year later, it ended with sorrow for my mom, my two younger sisters who were ten and thirteen at the time, and me. At an age when life already seemed so complicated, it suddenly became insufferable for me. I remained home from school for two weeks after my father died. I remember feeling scared to go back to school because I did not know how I would be treated or what other students would say about me. I was also unsure about how my teachers would treat me. The last thing I wanted was for them to expect less of me because of my circumstances. To my surprise and eventual disbelief and disappointment, my loss was not even acknowledged by any of my teachers. I remember walking into my first class and feeling embarrassed because the other students were looking at me and talking to each other about “the girl whose father died.” At a time when I needed someone to talk to, the teacher’s lack of acknowledgement left me feeling alienated and alone.
I was not the only child in my family to experience a difficult return to school. The middle child, who was thirteen at the time, also returned to school two weeks after my father died. The day of her return was the first time since my dad’s funeral that she saw her best friend. Upon my sister’s arrival, her best friend hugged her and welcomed her back to school. In a matter of minutes, my sister and her friend were taken to the principal’s office and my mom was called to have my sister taken home because she broke the “hands off” rule. At a time when my sister needed a hug and to feel welcomed, she was made to feel belittled. You can only imagine how my mother felt when she was called to retrieve her daughter for hugging her friend after the death of her father. Children, at any age, should not feel alone, alienated, or unsupported by their educators at such a difficult time in their lives. I truly believe my grief experience would have been very different had I received some emotional support from the adults with whom I spent most of my day.
My goal is to provide a safe space for children at the Children’s Healing Studio Ltd. The Children’s Healing Studio Ltd. is a place where children who are experiencing a wide range of difficult life circumstances can explore and express their emotions through play. It is a place where families can find professional support and advice, and a space where educators can learn how children grieve various losses and the role of the educator in supporting children through the grief process.