Six simple and effective techniques for soothing childhood troubles:
- Calm Anxious Thoughts with the Balloon Breath
Ancient wisdom and modern research point to the calming effects and health benefits of slow, deep breathing. Few people actually breathe deeply. Ask someone to and he'll suck in his belly and puff out his chest, a lot like Superman. But a diaphragmatic breath fills the body like a balloon, from the bottom. It's the belly, not the chest that rises and falls first.
To teach your child the balloon breath, first explore it for yourself. While this technique can be practiced in any position, at any time or location, its most easily demonstrated lying down. Get comfortable on a flat surface and place your hands around your navel. Focus your attention two to three inches below it, and breathe slowly and deeply into your lower belly so that it presses into your hands like an inflating balloon.
- Problem-Solve By Discovering A Special Place
There are private places within your child's inner world where he can work out problems or take mini-vacations from the stresses of life, where he can relax, regroup, or just hang out in a healthy way. Kids do this all the time when they play make-believe or daydream in class; they take themselves somewhere "else", to places and circumstances that are exciting and personal to them. The "Discovering Your Special Place" tool redirects that natural "flight of fancy" into a path for self-care.
To introduce this tool to your child, say, "Let's take some time to find a place to relax." Or "Let's take a little vacation." (There is a detailed script in Dr. Reznick's book on page 26 for guiding your child to his or her special place of problem-solving where children can surround themselves with everything and everyone that brings them joy.) As you guide your child to his special place, you tell her that whenever anyone walks through the door of her special place, they love and accept her just the way she is.
- Ease Academic Pressure By Encountering a Personal Wizard
We have a universal fascination with wizards and the idea that someone can wave a wand and make things right. Indeed, such magical beings are profound archetypes; they exist in all cultures and have endured in our stories and dreams since ancient times. When kids need or want real magic, that's when it's time to bring in a personal wizard, a mentor and magical teacher in human form. When your child calls on a wizard, she is supported by a collective imagination as old as the first fairytale and as new as the latest fantasy film.
Introduce this tool with a conversation, "Today, we'll learn to talk to Wizards. What do you know about them?" (A detailed script of what to say next is in Dr. Reznick's book.)
Your child may have one wizard or many. Some kids discover an All-Purpose Wizard, as well as specialists like a Spelling Wizard or a Science Wizard.
- Meet a Wise Animal Friend
Almost all children respond to animals, whether as pets, stuffed toys, wild creatures, or animated characters. An animal friend is an imaginary, loving protector who has a child's best interest at heart, and helps him access his inner wisdom. Animal friends offer unique perspectives. For instance, birds see from above, fish may swim under "emotional" waters, insects get the details, and dogs will sniff out what humans can't see. They also represent instinct over logic; some problems require intuitive solutions. Animal friends can be fantasy creatures, real family companions, wild animals, or a combination. One girl client was visited by a "dog-chicken"; another boy imagined a rainbow lizard. The possibilities are limitless. It's also common for kids to call up animals who mirror their feelings. A frightened child might encounter a nervous deer or a scared bunny. These fearful critters have just the understanding he needs to address his fear.
Though animal friends can't always remove problems, they do relieve your child's suffering. Introduce this stress-relief tool with the question, "Have we gotten you an animal friend yet?"
- Trust Instincts by Checking in With the Heart and Belly
"Listen to your heart" people often say, or "What's your gut feeling?" It's a way to ask about intuition, a knowing that is different, maybe deeper, than logic. And it's good advice. The belly and heart have their own intelligence. Neuroscience has shown that certain "brain" chemicals--neuropeptides, which communicate with other parts of our bodies--don't live only in the brain; they also reside in our intestinal tract.
This suggests a second, "Belly Brain" for emotions. Other research suggests that the heart has its own intelligence and communication system. It's as if we have several brains in our bodies and each has something to offer.
Introduce this tool with a few words about where we keep intuition: "You have so much knowledge in your brain, but your heart has wisdom for you too. So does your belly. Let's focus on that and see what they have to say."
- Use Color for Healing:
Color is a powerful tool for transforming pain, whether it's physical, emotional, or even a spiritual longing to connect. Almost everyone can relate feelings to colors. Think about how some people are "green with envy", while others just "feel blue". It's a shorthand that lets us see what can't be seen and explain it to others.
Associations are unique to each individual. Anger can be "roaring red" for one person and "raging black" for another--or different for the same person on different days. The specifics don't matter; it's the way color expresses our feelings and captures our imaginations that's important.
Your child can use Color to reduce physical pain and shift emotions. Striking colors may be associated with headaches and stomachaches. One child's tummy felt like green gunk; she used gold love from her heart to clean it out. Another's headache was fire engine red; he cooled it with blue ice. The same occurs with emotions. Colors can transform negative feelings--purple Courage calming orange Fear.
As you begin working with color for healing with your child, identify the colors of one negative feeling and two positive ones, like blue Brave and green Confidence facing grey fear. Use the sample script in Dr. Reznick's book (page 48) to play with possibilities. Experiment. You don't know what will happen until it does.
Dr. Charlotte Reznick is a nationally recognized child educational psychologist and associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA. She is the founder of imageryforkids.com, and has been using imagery and visualization with thousands of children, parents, and professionals for more than 25 years to deal with such problems as separation anxiety and fear of the unknown, trouble with schoolwork and concentration, phobias, panic attacks, and social anxiety.
Dr. Reznick is founder of the website www.imageryforkids.com