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Beyond Biofeedback: How Words Can Help Children Heal

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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?

  1. With our words.
  2. With our bodies.
  3. With our spirits.

Verbal communication as a form of organic feedback can be quite simple. In Verbal First Aid and other hypnotherapeutic modalities, it is called "pacing," a way of moving with the child wherever he or she is. So if the child is tired, we can say, "I see how tired you are." Or if the child is scared, "Oh, that was scary. And surprising!"

However, our verbal acknowledgment of another's presence, need, or emotional/physical state, is only one of the ways in which we become present to another person.

We can also do so with our bodies—the way we stop what we're doing and look at them when they speak to us, the way we kneel down to be at eye-level, the way we touch them when they are in pain or frightened.

And whether we use our words or our body language, our spirits—our intentions—are always finding a way to express what we are feeling, thinking and believing, whether we are conscious of it or not.

According to Randi Jacoby, a speech and language specialist in New York (1), "children require time and one-on-one feedback as they struggle"to build their language and cognitive skills." They also require the full presence of their caretaker—whether that's mother, father, grandparent, or nanny—to reassure as well as stimulate them and prepare them for the challenges that life will present to them.

Using our words and our full-hearted presence to help children be calm and heal not only gives them much-needed relief in the moment. It gives them the verbal and emotional tools they need to keep themselves healthy for a lifetime.

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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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