Communicating with children can feel overwhelming, for the adult AND for the child. So often, children do not have access to the words that will accurately describe their thoughts and emotions. This can be very frustrating to a child, and often will result in a physical showing of aggravation, sadness, or even anger.
Mya* is an 8 year old student in the third grade, who was suffering from school time anxiety. As mother’s do, Mya’s mom searched for help. Her mother asked if I would support Mya with mindfulness. Mya’s mom went on to explain that she was concerned that her daughter was “acting out” in school toward her classmates, but at home she was the same cheerful child. When asked by those closest to Mya “What is going on?”, she responded, “Everything is fine. I don’t know what anyone is talking about.” Yet, the reports of negative behavior continued…
The first day Mya and I practiced mindfulness together, I asked her if there was anywhere in her day that she absolutely loved. She responded, “I love morning circle time at school, but I used to love it even more.” I asked a few questions, like:
- What do you love about morning circle time?
- If you could be any animal that matched the feeling you get at circle time…what animal would it be?
- Is there any other place in your day that comes close to the physical feelings you have at circle time…that make you say it is your favorite?
You may notice I did not ask Mya directly about her comparison of “I love morning circle time at school, but I used to love it even more.” I knew that if Mya felt safe enough, if she felt heard, she would let me know about the experiences affecting her interactions at school. However even if she didn’t, we could still find some joy and make space for her feelings and experiences, exactly as they were, without making her feel like we needed to “fix” anything.
Practice the Power of the Pause
Mindfulness practice honors the story of experience, however seeks to keep the practitioner present in the moment. Mya was taking mindfulness class from her home, where she was not exhibiting any strong emotions outside of her typical 8 year old behavior. Since Mya was not at school during our session, I called to mind a place at school where she was not feeling overwhelmed. This created space for her to meet her feelings and thoughts in a safe and empowered way.
In doing this, Mya quickly identified the transition that is causing her shift. “At circle time, Miss Tammy used to listen to each student talk about our plan for the day. But since Miss Tammy left to have her baby, Miss Hannah does circle time differently. I like Miss Hannah, but she goes faster than Miss Tammy did. I don’t know my plan for the day all of the time. I need more time. Miss Tammy used to come back to me if I didn’t know it right away in circle time. That really helped me.”
So Simple, Yet So Powerful
When given the space to voice her experience, Mya so articulately explained what was causing her shift in behavior at school. Miss Tammy allowed Mya to express herself without making her feel rushed, wrong, or overwhelmed. Miss Tammy accomplished this NOT by giving Mya the answer. Miss Tammy gave Mya the safe space necessary to access her creative intelligence, curiosity, and problem solving skills. In doing this simple yet so powerful pause, Mya felt heard. Giving someone the space to express themself, while feeling safe, will create an atmosphere of feeling heard; which is the key to any successful communication at all ages.
*Of course….Mya’s name is not really Mya. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of Angie’s students.
Angie Harris has spent the last 2 decades of her professional career training and teaching folks techniques just like this, to better communication and thereby better relationships. To receive one on one training, reach out to Angie at The Integrated Mind Online Academy.