Other professionals, particularly those in the field of Speech and Language Development and Education, call upon parents to interact with their children on as many levels as possible. Do things together. Talk while you do them together. Make eye contact, body contact.
In Verbal First Aid, we take it a step further. We call upon parents, educators, caretakers, and medical professionals to recognize the extraordinary power words have and the way in which they, too, are part and parcel of the cellular environment. Not unlike the blankets, nutrition, and open air that support and surround babies as they grow, our words help them to develop emotionally and physiologically by fostering a belief in their own ability to heal.
How does this work? How can we use words to facilitate healing in our children?
Rapport: The Foundation of Healing Feedback
In the Verbal First Aid protocol a compassionate presence or rapport is a critical aspect of all therapeutic communication. The protocol was originally created for use by first responders to facilitate healing in victims of trauma, but is now being utilized by people all over the world to help their children heal from all the kitchen variety boo-boos and challenges kids face as they grow up.
There are two parts to Verbal First Aid : Rapport and Suggestion. In order to give a person a suggestion they will follow (e.g., "stop the bleeding" or "you can rest comfortably now"), there has to be a trusting connection or "rapport" between the two of you. This is true whether the person you're talking to is a child or adult.
Gaining rapport is built on 3 fundamentals--Authority, Believability and Compassion.
Authority is the first step. When people are scared, they look for a benevolent authority to tell them what to do. They naturally look to leaders to lead them to safety. Even with adults, you see this response when a firefighter or police officer is present during a crisis. It is instinctive to all social animals.
Parents or caretakers are natural authorities and children are much more likely to follow direction from them. This is even more so when the child is hurt or frightened.
Believability is the second step. We always want to be truthful. If we're not believable--for instance, if we tell someone, "Everything's going to be okay," when it's clearly not okay--we lose rapport quickly. And without rapport our words--and therefore our suggestions--ring hollow, for if they can't believe us they can't follow us where we want them to go.
Compassion, the third step, is based on empathy--the ability to feel what someone else feels. It is not the same as sympathy, with has more of a kinship with pity. When we can share someone's feelings and still maintain a clear, calm guiding voice, we can lead that person towards healing. When we speak to someone with real compassion, that person will be able to say to himself, "She understands me."
Rapport is the track on which all communication runs. Suggestion is the locomotive, the leader that will carry the child to safety, to healing, to empowerment. When we have rapport--when a child sees us as a kind and competent authority--our words can help lead them to healing--both emotionally and physically.
Here's an example of both rapport and suggestion:
You've taken your niece to an amusement park. It's her first time. She gets onto the roller coaster with you, but you can see her grip on the bars is tight and she seems anxious. You build on the rapport you've developed over the years by simply saying, "Looks like you're holding on pretty tight there." Your niece says, "It's scary." "It's scary the first time," you pace her feelings. Then, as you take your bracelet off and put it on your niece's wrist, you say, "But now you've got my magic bracelet. You hold on to it while we ride, okay? It's easier to enjoy the ride when you know you've got magic with you." Your niece smiles, relaxing.
The Nature of Therapeutic Communication
How do we communicate to children, to each other?