© Sue Bradshaw for Auckland Therapy Blog, 4 June 2020
Kids can get in a spin too
We are bombarded with bad news stories on the news and online. It's inevitable that our children have some exposure to these too - at home or school. So how do we help children to feel safe in a world that to us feels unsafe?
The answer is by allowing them to think and to feel, and to put these together into a simple explanation of their experience.
When what we see, hear, or experience is too overwhelming for us we, as human beings, seek to simplify the information coming in by breaking it up into small pieces.
Unfortunately when we do this we then lose the whole picture and instead these fragments of information fight amongst themselves for our attention - especially in times of relative quiet such as when we're trying to go to sleep at night.
Children have the same experience, as can be testified to by the many parents who have tried to comfort a distressed child whose mind won't stop spinning at bedtime. These volatile fragments of information can be images, feelings, thoughts, or sensations (body feelings).
To stop these spinning around children need to be able to join the fragmented elements of experience together. For example - if a child is distressed by an image they've seen on TV and keep seeing it in their mind over and over again, ask them to try to guess how they feel, ask them how it feels in their body, and then help them find a simple sentence to label this experience (this is the thinking part). It might sound something like this:
Child : I can't stop thinking about that man...
Parent : How does that feel?
Child : Scary.
Parent : What do you notice in your body?
Child: It's hard to breathe.
The summary from the adult might then be "It feels scary remembering what you saw on TV and your body is telling you you're scared by breathing faster."
Then follow this up by doing something with your child to slow their breathing and make them feel safe. Reading a story to them, even if they're well past the age for having a story read to them, can be a good way of communicating you are with them and they are safe.
You might have noticed that I haven't gone into the details of the scary event. Sometimes things don't make sense but we can make sense of our own reactions and meet our own needs through responding to these emotional and physical reactions.
Not feeling alone with their feelings, as I've outlined in a previous blog, is the biggest safety factor for children. This doesn't mean never having conversations with children about difficult subjects, it's just about prioritising their sense of safety. Once they feel safe they will be better able to manage difficult topics.
My focus is helping families and individuals find a way through difficult times. This may be a short term intervention of 1 to 4 appointments or longer. I am providing a mix of online and in person consultations and therapy for children, teenagers and adults.