I’ve been working with children for as long as I could remember and I have an ease with them that many other people don’t. Dealing with crises, drama and upset was part of my life from a young age. I’m the oldest of 3 children and both my siblings were born with complications. My sister has Spina Bifida and required Occupational, Physical and Speech Therapy. My brother was born with diaphragmatic hernia and a heart murmur and required Speech Therapy for his profound to severe bilateral, sensorineural hearing loss. We lived in the hospitals, at least it seemed that way from all the doctor and therapy appointments for years. Family and friends would come and go, with their drama (baby mama drama, addictions, job loss and depression to name a few) and my parents did a great job of teaching us to entertain ourselves, to focus on our studies, hobbies and interests instead of their drama and I often looked after my younger siblings. I began babysitting family friends’ children and my siblings around 10 or 11 years old.
A lot of people ask me how I can be so calm when a child is screaming, crying, kicking and biting. “Gosh, it’s got to be so hard to work with these children with so many challenges!” Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always easy, but I can do it with more ease when I remember a few things about children:
Kids are fascinated by the fantastical, the weird and the different.
Kids are fun and creative! What’s something silly or artistic I can do?
I start singing, dancing and bring out the art supplies even if that means getting messy! Art supplies sometimes means food products become craft materials if I’m providing feeding therapy. We start creating stories together and silly characters. I change my voice and incorporate what I know about the child’s interests and personality into what we do. Being willing to be different and not take myself so seriously makes me stand out in their eyes and in their lives. It’s like “Oooh who is this sparkly gem who is hopping all over the place, spinning around?” Also, considering “What else can I do?” “What else haven’t I tried before?” with children and in my own life makes life way more interesting, amusing and exciting.
I change things up constantly. Sometimes it’s a surprise bag full of random objects. Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing the color, sound, shape of the same object. I acknowledge all the things that they are aware of in the room, from the people going in and out, to the sounds outside, to their clothing if that’s “distracting” them. I praise them for their awareness instead of getting upset by all the stimuli they are taking in. They don’t have to ignore what going on which takes a lot of energy; instead, they stay aware of it and choose what they will focus on. They start multi-tasking instead of being distracted. This acknowledges their capacities and gifts to perceive and sense what’s going on around them.
I used to go against my awareness, like when I would get that icky, squeamish feeling around someone and would “power through” leading to a miserable time spent with a not-so-nice person or when I got the sense that I shouldn’t take my usual route home only to found out that there was something blocking the road. Do you have any moments like that? Children can pick up on the energy of someone or a space really quickly! Sometimes they are screaming and crying because they are trying to tell you something is off, like REALLY off. I worked with a child who would cry every time their mom tried to feed them cheese. Later, we found out they were allergic to dairy. I had another client who would scream and bite right before they had an eczema flair up. What’s right about their screaming and crying that we’re not getting yet?
Am I willing to be manipulative and sneaky back at them? Oh yeah! You better believe it! I totally use incentives, rewards and reinforcers, or items that reinforce the desired behaviors I’d like to see increase. The important thing about using these is having a plan on how to fade them away as the child becomes more adept at a certain skill or increasing what they have to do to receive the desired item or activity. It’s about what works; you can consider it a transitional tool if that helps. Children have no point of view on doing what works and sometimes manipulation is what’s required. I’ve begun to consider this with my family and friends too. Before, I would never let myself be devious or calculating in any way and then I would be subject to the manipulations of others. I couldn’t even see when others were doing it to me, but after working with children and identifying their schemes, I was better able to perceive them in my personal life.
Working with children encourages me to stay active and move my body A LOT! It’s amazing how much more I can get done with a child when I let them move their body and let them explore! It can be as simple as moving an activity from them having to sit at the table to them getting to walk around to search out the materials or them expressing the concepts through pantomime and dance in addition to listening or reading about them. Often, I provide therapy outside in parks, playgrounds and backyards. Changing up the setting can all of a sudden make things new, fresh and more interesting for them. Isn’t that the case for us too sometimes? Changing your wall color, traveling, working at a café instead of your office. Small shifts like this can make a big difference! Bodies are meant to move and motor memory is powerful! When we do something and connect it to our body it’s easier to remember. How cool is that!?
The only time you see a child judge another child is when they’ve learned to do so from an adult. The children I work with are mirrors showing me the points of views of the adults in their lives and have illuminated my own perspective on life. With this awareness, I can choose if I’d like to continue to hold on to these points of views or not. It’s such a gift to be seen and accepted for who you are. They just want to be happy. They just want you to be happy. What if you saw yourself the way a child would? Where are you judging yourself? When you choose to do that are you choosing happy?
I’m so grateful for all the children I’ve been fortunate to interact with and the children I have yet to meet. Each one reminds me that the purpose of life is be to happy, to enjoy your body and revel in nature. Thank you little bodies in infinite beings for your unbound awareness and the joy you’ve brought to my life!