Words have this capacity with adults, as science has shown over and over. But it is even more effective with children, who are far more connected to their bodies and their instinctive responses than adults. As adults we have been conditioned to deny and modify the way our bodies respond. Children have not yet acquired those defenses and the effects of our words are readily apparent in their faces and their body language.
Their imaginations are also far more active and freer than those of adults. They are less likely to let their conscious mind interrupt a great story with logic than we are. They suspend disbelief more easily. As a result, with proper guidance from us they are able to generate images that can have a powerful and positive impact on their immunity, their breathing, their heart rate, and their inflammatory response.
The Healing Zone
Verbal First Aidâ„˘ works because when we are in a crisis of any kind—whether that's a serious accident or a bruised ego—we slip into what psychotherapists call "altered states." In those states we are more suggestible and more sensitive to what is being said around us or to us. For that reason, these states are referred to as "healing zones" in Verbal First Aid(tm).
In these healing zones we are highly focused, usually on an internal process. Children enter these states far more easily and more often than adults. What we say to ourselves and to other people when we are in that zone has extra impact. This is doubly true when the person speaking is an adult, particularly a parent or other known and respected authority figure.
The ABC's of Verbal First Aid(tm)
There are two parts to Verbal First Aidâ„˘: Rapport and Suggestion. Without the first, the second, no matter how clever, doesn't work.
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."
The Power and Purpose of Rapport
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: