One of the biggest challenges when working with very young children is to help them express their emotions to get into the “mood” for working on a project, especially when they are having a difficult day or just a “bad” day, like we all have sometimes.
What to do when the parent comes to me and “delivers” a child that is sad, upset, bored or simply tired and I am supposed to work with her on increasing her learning abilities. Tough challenge, trust me! Or ask any first grade teacher who has to deal with this issue times 30, 5 days a week, I am sure they have some stories about it :).
I don’t know how they do it when it comes to a big class, but I’ve discovered some pretty useful tips and tricks to help a child that doesn’t feel like working to get into the mood for actually doing the training she came for in the first place.
Clara’s Story : I Feel Bored
It was my 3rd session of training with Clara (not her real name), a beautiful, smart, sensitive, playful 8 year old girl. We’ve been working already for 3 weeks on helping her increase her speed reading abilities, concentration and attention parameters.
This day when her mother brought her I noticed she was lot more agitated than usual. After the first few minutes we spend to catch up and warm up to our session she was still aloof, and kept on interrupting our work with very “important” actions like :”Wait, I need to sharp this pencil first!”, “Oh, no, I’ve stained my hand with ink!”, “Look, there is a bright light out the window”. If you have kids, or you have been working with one, you know those tricks.
They are the equivalent of adult’s “Let me go check on Facebook for a second!”, “I wonder if I have a new email!”, “Oh, this mug is dirty, I’d better go clean it first” and then I’ll do what I have to do now.
From what I’ve noticed, these are all ways of procrastinating, avoiding a dreaded task, or hiding from a bugging feeling.
With Clara, I knew she liked our work together, so it was not that she was avoiding a dreaded task. So I guessed it was something related to her emotions.
After a few minutes of trying to “trick” her into getting things done, I’ve noticed “resistance was futile” (If you were a Star Trek fan, you know what I am talking about :). There was no way to work with her while she was in that state. So I started to apply active listening, trying to guess her emotions.
“Clara, from what I see since you arrived, it seems to me like you actually don’t feel like working. I feel like there is something troubling you. Can you please tell me how you feel right now?”….
“Hmmm, I feeeeeeel….bored!” the answer came.
I was thinking: how can I help her express this boredom and whatever other emotions hidden behind it?
The Magic Of Drawing Your Emotions
So I gave her plenty of white paper and a pencil and I asked her: “Could you please draw this feeling on this piece of paper?”
“Yeap, of course I can”.
So she draw a big, sad, bored face, and wrote next to it “BORED”.
Then she hand it over to me. When I saw it I exclaimed with a smile on my face : “That’s wonderful!”
She was completely puzzled. “What’s wonderful about this bored face?” “It is wonderful that you expressed it!” “Would you like to draw another one?”
And she started drawing very passionately another sad, bored, face. When she finished I asked her: another one, please! And another!” I encouraged her to keep on drawing, and observing the evolution of her “faces” and of her body language I named some other emotions.
“I feel there is also some anger that wants to be expressed! Please draw the anger face!”
She kept on drawing until I felt she had had enough.
Then came the question: what do we do with the drawings? “What do you want to do?”, I asked.
“I want to tear them apart!” And so she did, and she threw them all over the room. Then she was jumping and rolling over the floor, pretending to be swimming.
Then I said: “great, we got all those emotions out, now let’s clean the place and throw the papers in the bin!”
She started gathering all the papers and threw them in the bin. Her mood was completely different now, she was smiling and more relaxed.
“Can we start working now on our training?” I asked. “Yes”, she said smiling. And then we had one of our most productive sessions together.
At the end I asked her to make another drawing to show me how she was feeling. She made a huge smiling face! 🙂
That was it. It took us 20 minutes all together to go through the whole process of releasing the emotions, and then we worked for another hour on our training exercises.