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Brains, Babies, and Verbal First Aid

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However you approach it--as a firefighter, medic, or parent--you achieve it with three simple principles: Authority, Believability, and Compassionate Care.

Authority is a quality or manner of being that communicates to whomever you're with: "I know what I'm doing in this situation." It is not the same as Expertise, though it can be related.   It is more of a presence, an attitude that we have the emotional fortitude, experience, and clarity to handle whatever crisis we are facing. It is the ability to lead or guide a child through an upset or an accident in a calm, assertive manner. This is what I've come to call "Kid Whispering"  and its importance can't be understated. It is a presence that says to a child: "Follow me. I know the way out of this." For a demonstration, you can watch the Verbal First Aid video.

Believability is not just the absence of a lie; it is the inspiration of trust.   The essential challenge is communicating a positive outcome without pretending that everything is "okay." For instance, if a 2 year-old boy falls and scrapes his hands so they bleed profusely, we want to avoid saying "oh, that's no big deal," because for him it's quite a big deal.

If your five year-old daughter has a horrifying nightmare and her screams haul you out of bed at 3 in the morning, you don't want to try to quiet them down by saying, "It's nothing but a dream," because dreams feel terribly real and her fear is entirely reasonable given her internal reality.   The same is true for adults.

We want to approach each situation with a realistic optimism, not rose-colored glass. When we say "it's okay" to a person for whom it is very much NOT okay, we lose rapport because we are no longer believable. Whatever we say next becomes suspect.

When we are intent on rapport, compassion is the essence of everything we do from our first contact to our last. Infants know when someone cares. They may not have the words or the understanding of it that we do, but they experience it (or the lack of it) at the most visceral of levels. As a result, they determine whether they are in caring hands or they need to be concerned.

When we have rapport and learn the basics of Verbal First Aid, we can take our children from crisis to calm, from pain to comfort. Our relationship with them and the words we use can lead them to a healing response not only in the moment but in the fullness of their entire lives.



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Judith Acosta, LISW, CHT is a licensed psychotherapist and clinical homeopath in private practice in Placitas and Albuquerque. Her areas of specialization include the treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. She has appeared on both television (more...)
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