In my work as a therapist I see people of all ages. Recently I came across a scenario that has caused me to do a great deal of thinking. How would two people, suffering from the same issues, respond to the same treatment if one was six years old and the other was fifty-six?
For a couple months now I have been seeing a six year old suffering from anxiety and sadness. Another person, who is fifty-six has been coming for the exact same reasons. Each people has responded to the same treatment in totally different ways.
When I work with children so much of the success is determined by the rapport that is built in the first few sessions. Children are so eager to learn, so open minded and resilient! After building a strong and trusting relationship with this child I began to teach her mindfulness. We used feeling identification and learned the differences in our feelings and how to describe these variations. It wasn’t long before she was “naming” her feelings with words that were spot on, allowing her caregiver to better understand what she was experiencing. Shortly after gaining a better understanding of these feelings, I began teaching the child some simple cognitive behavioral strategies for reducing anxiety and sadness. We used thought stopping, thought switching, distraction techniques and re-framing. This child was able to identify negative thoughts, stop them or switch them by distracting herself and then say out loud a re-framing statement to yield more positive feelings. Now, this did take a lot of practice but it wasn’t but a couple weeks before the child’s caregiver was calling me on the weekend to express her excitement that this child was able to stop the thoughts that were causing her so much pain! In that same conversation the child told me in her own words how she is using objects around the house to distract and soothe instead of using anger and aggression to express herself. Words can’t even describe how proud I was of this child for allowing someone (me) to provide her with the influence she needed and accept it to the point to where she was able to help herself.
Just a few days after this occurred I was working with an adult who was suffering from anxiety and depression. We began to process her thoughts, feelings and behaviors and look for connections between the three. I assessed her level of emotional awareness and validated some feelings of anger, frustration, guilt, shame, etc. I then proceeded to teach her cognitive behavioral interventions (just as I had the six year old) and her response was that of confusion. She had a hard time recognizing negative thoughts and differentiating from those that cause her pain. To teach re-framing was even more difficult. When she left that day I began to think about that session and how I felt as though I had done her an injustice because of the difficulty she had with the interventions and the pure sense of confusion written all over her face.
This got me thinking about the differences in adults and children. As adults we are so set in our ways! I know that sometimes when we are suffering we want to feel better, but sometimes despite that we hang on to those negative feelings and choose not to change them. With children, our influence is so great. If a child sees that we (adults) are excited about something, they will be too. If we tell them about a strategy they can use to feel better, guess what they do? They try it! We we believe something, they believe it! When we think they can do it, they think they can do it! Even though they may not be able to communicate in the way that we can, they show their emotions through their behavior. As adults, most of our behaviors and negative habits are so ingrained into our daily routines that we become hesitant to change them! Sometimes it’s just easier for us to use this a crutch instead of being proactive and making changes.
Habits are hard to break and that’s why leveraging our influence on children is so important. If we can help to raise a child without them forming a multitude of bad habits, they will be much more likely to be free of burdens in their adult lives. I don’t know one single adult who WANTS to feel miserable but sometimes the work that it will take to change is so overwhelming. I never see children struggling with this confliction. If they want something they go after it! Today, I challenge you to be more like a child in the way that if you have a problem, change it! If it’s a big problem that is very overwhelming, set a goal to change it and take pride in making small steps in that direction. If only we were more like children in that we were open minded, easily to influence, and believed in our abilities, there is no limit for how much we could overcome.