HOW TO HOLD SPACE FOR CHILDREN EXPRESSING THEIR EMOTIONS
series: emotional wellbeing of children by Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD, Richard P. Brown, MD
& Somiari Demm, MA/M.Div, CYT, CTS
These are some of the words that I feel that are effective when you're listening to them or interacting with them: I hear you. Even if you're not saying that out loud, but internally saying that in connecting with them that says, "I hear you".
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Another good word is "I see you." Somebody also told me this, that I use often-- An acronym for love is: listen, observe, validate and empathize.
So: I'm listening, and then validation, I understand what you, how you feel. I can imagine how you were feeling in that moment, what you were going through. And then the element of empathy, which is just being able as best as we can (even though we don't have the actual experience of putting ourselves in their shoes) and saying to yourself, "if I was this child at so and so age, what emotions would come up for me?" And then using that language, do you know, to validate them in whatever experiences they're going through.
I think it's a disservice to whenever we try to suppress their emotions. When people say, "oh, well, the long time ago" or "don't worry about it, it's done," or if they have a spiritual or religious background, we tell them, "oh, just pray about it. God will take care of."
I think those are really, really hurtful mechanisms because again, what we do want is for it to come out, you know, suppression of anything, just means that eventually you're going to have an explosion and the explosion is going to be more far greater than it could have been if they had been given a safe place to be able to express what they were feeling.
For example, with some of the children I've worked with, I tend to shy away from love in a sense that traumatized children can automatically caused them to cleave to you. But saying something like, "I like you" and them hearing that boosts self esteem, it boosts confidence. It lets them know that somebody sees them. They don't see the scars, but they actually see them beyond that and sees them beyond their behavior.
Sometimes I hear parents when they're correcting their children, they say "what's wrong with you?" And I often tell parents to say, "hey, what's right with you", you know, and you know, it throws people off and it throws a child off because they are expecting in a situation in which they are not behaving the way they should, or their emotions are out of walk, for somebody to essentially be praising them by saying what's right, right with you. And so saying words like that gets to their heart -- it's almost like an expansion of their heart without you actually doing an extensive amount of work because again, remember their identity has been kind of dismantled.
So they are really trying to figure out who am I within this new space? Who Am I within this new environment? Who am I outside of not being where I'm supposed to be? Or with all this trauma. So anybody recognizing and affirming to them and validating them just immediately moves them into a space of even greater resiliency, and greater confidence.
What I found is that when they are more confident, when their self esteem is boosted, they're able to function a bit better and they're able to overcome at an even greater rate.
Dr. Patricia Gerbarg
Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor in Psychiatry, New York Medical College. Dr. Gerbarg has lectured and taught about a wide range of topics in psychiatry, psychoanalysis, women’s issues, trauma, neurobiology, natural treatments (herbs, nutrients), and the integration...
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of mind-body practices in psychotherapy for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Meetings and many other conferences, academic centers, and community organizations.She serves on the APA Caucus on Complementary and Integrative Psychiatry and is a board member of the American Botanical Council.
Dr. Gerbarg practices Integrative Psychiatry, combining standard and complementary treatments. Her research focuses on mind-body practices for reducing the effects of stress and trauma, particularly in survivors of mass disasters, including the Southeast Asia Tsunami, 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, war in Sudan, Gulf Horizon Oil Spill, veterans, and stress-related medical illnesses.
Dr. Richard P. Brown
Dr. Richard P. Brown is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons where he obtained his medical degree 1977. The recipient of numerous awards, he has authored over 100 scientific articles,...
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books, and book chapters on pharmacological treatments, clinical studies, and complementary and integrative treatments in psychiatry.
Dr. Brown developed a comprehensive neurophysiological theory of the effects of breathing exercises on the mind and body, particularly its benefits in anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dr. Brown gives over 100 lectures and courses every year. Since 1998, he has taught full-day courses on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as well as Mind-Body trainings for the American Psychiatric Association, other national and international conferences, veterans, and community service programs.
Somiari Demm, MA/M.Div, CYT, CTS
Somiari is a certified trauma specialist, a certified yoga teacher, and a certified breath body and mind teacher. Her areas of concentration include children and adolescents, trauma, mindfulness, and spirituality. She is a passionate scholar-practitioner in the...
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field of clinical psychology who has divided her time betweenclinical practice, training, workshops, and consulting. As a mental health practitioner, she uses mindfulness cognitive behavioral therapy (MCBT) and other evidence-based practices to help adolescent and adult clients with a wide range of emotional, and behavioral issues.
Somiari has received extensive training in the treatment of addiction, mental illnesses, affect regulation, and trauma. In her consulting work, she has provided bullying, violence, and trauma training for elementary and residential schools. In addition to clinical practice, for 3 years she worked as a consultant counseling Chibok girls that escaped Boko Haram.Somiari has been interviewed by 60-Minutes, CNN, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, BBC, and Aljareeza.
As a trauma thriver, her life experiences have fostered her love of, and dedication to the mental health field. Following the words of Gandhi, she believes that “purity of life is the highest and truest art.” Somiari also believes she is here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. Through her work, she is enriching the world through love, healing, and peace