How to be in a focusing way with children
How do we teach children to focus
How can we guide children in focusing
Making friends with my Felt Sense was a new and major experience, although I had been involved in body-oriented therapy for a long time already. I only wished that someone would have taught to me to connect with my inner wisdom when I was a child so I could have trusted and relied on it from then on. Soon I got the information that focusing was available for adults and adolescents, and not yet for children. I started carefully to introduce focusing into my psychotherapeutic work with children. Later on I found some articles about helping children to focus. That supported me on my way. I started to give courses for adults to be with children in a focusing way, to teach focusing to children and to guide them in focusing. By helping parents, teachers and other adults to be in a focusing way with children more children can be reached than in the one-on-one situation in therapy.
Therefore I chose to write this article about the way I work with adults in teaching them focusing by children, as far as my present development reaches.
Making focusing available for children on a large scale is urgently needed. With this article I would like to give another impulse to our focusing work with children.
My intention is to handle our child carefully, receptively and with warmth, with due observance of all the principles and fine shades inherent to focusing, for a good future of all children.
A mother asked me for advice by telephone what she could do with her boys to get a better way of understanding. First I gave her the advice to follow a focusing course herself. Secondly I told her to ask her son at the moment he had some trouble or a bad feeling, where he felt ‘it’ in his body and how it felt there. After that he could put ‘it’ somewhere outside, so he could have a better look at it. Some weeks later she told me the following story:
Can you imagine me driving the car with my 2 sons, 2 and 4 years old, sitting in the back. I felt so upset, because the youngest one was angry, crying and shouting. I could not get clear what was going on and I needed the utmost concentration to drive the car safely.
The elder boy, Joachim, asked the little one, Casimir: “where do you feel the anger inside?”.
Casimir responded between his heavy sobs: “In my belly”.
Joachim:”Where exactly do you feel it?”
Casimir:”Here”, and he put his little hand on his belly.
Joachim: “Keep your hand there for a while because then you can feel it better”.
Casimir: “Not nice there”.
Joachim: “Now you put it outside....you give it a place somewhere....you let it go....and you will be happy again”.
Then it became very quiet in the back of the car, the boys were very content and I felt relieved.
I have started with this example to emphasize that focusing by children is not difficult. This is just what focusing is about. Even an instruction by telephone can have consequences. And isn’t it our ultimate goal that children are going to help each other in the focusing way?
More and more requests came to me from parents, teachers and others, who wanted children to learn focusing: “How can I help our child with focusing?” and “How can I guide my child or children at school in focusing?” It proved to be more complicated than only to help adults to teach children to focus and to guide them in focusing. Soon I discovered that there was a still more basic question and need. That was: “How can I be with my child in family or work in a focusing way the whole day through, creating a better climate in our home or in school, really being with the child instead of giving orders, forcing, being irritated quickly when the child has another plan than I do”. The adults were very much interested in making themselves familiar with the basic focusing attitude during every day life and in teaching and guiding the child in focusing.
Also teaching children to focus requires the same understanding, following attitude. For example what is happening when a child refuses to have anything to do with focusing and says to her mother:
“you are studying focusing, aren’t you, but I don’t want to be your student. Choose someone else to do your exercises”
How can we solve such this distance between parent and child. Isn’t the utmost focusing attitude of the mother needed here, respecting the child’s resistance?
I am giving courses to adults to teach them how they can help children to focus. I would like to give the reader the guidelines as I have developed them together with the adults who attended the courses. It is the reader’s creativity and fantasy that will evolve his/her own focusing way with children.
Till one week ago I had a problem, and that is that I could not yet find a good title neither for my courses nor for this article. ‘Focusing with children’ should be the easiest one, but it does not feel exactly right. Gendlin taught us that nobody can focus another individual. This is the first lesson in guiding adults, and I’m convinced that for children it is just the same and even more true. The focuser is always the one who turns his/her attention inwards, when possible with the help of a guide or therapist.
So I wrote Gendlin to ask his opinion about talking about ‘focusing by children’. I was very happy to get the answer that ‘focusing by children’ is indeed the best way to talk about this work, or in short ‘children focusing’.
The basic course in focusing is the minimum condition for participation in the course ‘children focusing’. The adults in our groups are parents, grandparents, neighbors, teachers, child care workers, a play therapist. Because of these many relationships I will write about the child.
The problem in the course ’children focusing’ is that the children themselves are absent. But on the other hand in fact all ages are always represented in a course. The group members not only have rich experiences with their own or other people’s children, or the children with whom they work. They also have their own childhood-experiences within them. When we use these also, the course gets more depth in experience, relating all the time to their behavior with children in the present time.
It was a very warm and inspiring experience to start a course in which one of the participants was 8 and a half months pregnant and to end with the little, very quiet and content 4 week old baby in our midst, who had already had her first focusing experiences with her mother. It awoke deep feelings in ourselves. Later on I will tell you more about it.
The aim of this article is that:
adults adopt the basic focusing attitude
adults take courage to guide children in focusing in daily life
adults start to teach children to focus in daily life
focus trainers, who are involved in or have experience with working with children, will bring this program to other adults
professionals working with children will add focusing to their work
managers, who have something to do with children, will support that focusing will be used in their agencies and schools
This article has two parts. The first part is about how I work in an experiencing way with a group of adults wanting to acquire a focusing attitude with children. The second part is about the guidelines about how to teach children to focus and how to guide them in focusing.
In the first part I have written examples in italics, and comments and reflections in small letters.
In the second part there is the text which you can use as instruction, also in italics, and ‘you’ is then the child.
The drawings are reduced versions of the originals with translated text between brackets.
Goals of the course ‘children focusing’.
The course has been set up in such way that group members have progressed concerning the next issues at the end:
You can teach a child:
to have sensory awareness in its body
to bring awareness to the inside of the body
to make contact with inner bodily Felt Sense about something
to involve this feeling in its life by listening to it
to know that this feeling implicitly carries a meaning, a story
to handle its problems better
not to deny its problems, nor to drown in it
to do ‘clearing a space’, especially by drawing
to be allowed to feel the difficult, sorrowful, scary or angry feelings
to know that it is helpful to listen to bodily feelings
the child can trust its own inside place, which knows what is right and true
the child itself is the locus of control about feelings in the own
(ouch, I have a headache)situation
to concentrate better on what it is doing
You are sensitive to the own territory and boundaries of the child
You recognize non-verbal signals and diversionary tactics
You put into words what you sense with your empathy is going on in the child
Then you can ask the question: “does it fit?”
You can guard your own territory and boundaries
You focus time and time again especially when you feel frustrated, irritated, angry, etc. or disappointed about what the child is doing or asking.
The way we work in the course
In my courses we work from own experiences time and time again. By the bodily felt change and by putting these experiences into words, the participants discover and form their own way to be with the child in an empathic listening way and to help children to focus. The guidelines I give about the basic attitude and how we can help children to focus, support this process.
My intention in the course is not to get stuck in mere talking about children. So far I’ve developed some ways to solve this problem and that is to ask often to play and experience a situation or interaction, or to focus on it.
The group members have every day experiences with their own children or the children with whom they are working. And we see a lot of children. Even in the supermarket we can see remarkable behavior of children and adults. We use these experiences in our course, and I will often ask to make a role play or simulation exercise of it.
It proves to be difficult to switch over from a directive attitude or the less occurring compliant attitude to an effective empathic listening attitude. A lot of adults are struggling with the fear to lose control over the child’s behavior. For me it is very basic to offer a lot of opportunities for inner experience during the course to get inner change of the adult’s attitude towards children.
The role playing and simulation exercises help us to develop our empathy and sensitivity for the child’s inner life. Especially taking the position of the child gives a lot of recognition, astonishment and bodily felt change with a resulting change in behavior.
Role play is when the participants play the roles of strangers, not being involved in the situation themselves.
Especially for the first meeting I have some examples for role playing in mind, to start with. Later on the participants come with their own examples most of the times. I ask to play a situation 3 times:
The adult is forcing the authoritarian solution
Mother: I tell you we have to go shopping immediately.
Child: But I’m playing
Mother: You stop now and do what I say
The adult gives in, not being able to handle the power of the child
Mother: We should go shopping
Child: No, I’m playing
Mother: Then I’ll stay at home
The adult listens in the empathic Felt Sense listening way. As group members played this in our course:
Mother: I still have to do some shopping for dinner
Child: I’d like to stay here because I’m playing
Mother: That’s not nice for you to interrupt your play. You know I don’t like you to stay at home alone. How long do you need to build your tower?
Child: Just for a while
Mother: I’ll wait a few minutes
Child: We can also go now. My tower can wait.
It is marvelous how creative the group members can play their roles extensively from own experience. In the last example they find out how there comes a turning point, both being satisfied, when the right spot has been touched.. That is always if the child feels heard. Often the group members help each other and complement something, or we play it several times till we have found the most satisfying interaction and solution.
We call it a simulation exercise when someone is making the role from his/her own experience.
We learned in the first meeting that behind all behavior there is a story that wants to be heard, also and especially so with children. They aren’t blank pages. Empathic Felt Sense listening can help us to open up what is behind the behavior
A mother told us the first meeting:
One of my sons (11 years old) is very closed and a great nuisance in the family through bad behavior. I always feel irritated when he is near me. He is always disturbing the atmosphere in our family.
The second meeting she told us:
I am so surprised, because it went so well between me and my son for nearly two weeks. I couldn’t believe in focusing so much. It seemed a kind of trick, which was going to fail for me. But I did what you taught me, listening to him and just repeating what he said, and we both enjoyed it very much. Till last Sunday evening. He came Just before bedtime he came with geography homework for a test paper and asked me to rehearse with him. It was a poor result so I said in an irritated manner that he was stupid to forget his homework. I said that he would have to get up early in the morning and learn it again and asked if he agreed that we had a deal about this. He agreed, but in the morning he did not want to come out of bed early. He did not learn his geography again. I had a bad morning because of it, with a heavy feeling in my stomach. He came home triumphantly, and had nearly the highest mark and that made me feel so stupid.
We could have talked about this situation, about theories behind it, analyzing the situation and giving advice, but to feel how it works makes it far much clearer and gives more room for a bodily felt change. So I asked her to take the position of the boy, and another one to play her behavior. She clearly felt how overpowered the boy must have felt and how much resistance that evokes.
After that I asked another participant to take the position of the mother who was really listening to the boy and in that way gave room to his own solutions. The mother started crying and told us:
It is as if I can never come close to him. I can now feel in his place how he must be longing for me to be close to him. There is something about this distance when he was born. I nearly died.
Later in the course this personal theme comes back in its own time and place.
Focusing by the group members
The childhood experiences of the group members are multiple and we can work with them on several levels in the course as reference to focus on. One side is that focusing on childhood experiences helps us to discover what is in the way within ourselves to be the parent or adult you want to be for this child. And the other side is to be able to feel how you would have liked to be listened to or to be helped so you can sense better what is going on in the child now and can respond better to it.
I use the following question/situation to focus on, using the usual focusing-process you know always going to the Felt Sense of it, looking a link of childhood experiences with adult behavior towards the child now.
Sometimes we work as a group experience, sometimes in pairs. In the last meeting of the group we painted from the Felt Sense. It was a powerful experience.
Focusing experience 1:
As a child how did you want to be listened to by your parents, your teacher:
A mother experienced:
A teacher accused me of lying. Nobody believed me that it was my truth, not even my parents. They didn’t want to hear my story. I just got punished, and it has never been cleared out of the way. I’m so very upset when I even suspect that my daughter is lying . And very quickly I suspect it.. Now I feel more space to listen to her. I want to apologize to her.
Focusing experience 2:
Imagine standing in front of the house of your youth where you have most connection with
imagine standing in the living room
imagine standing in the room where you sleep
A grandmother sighed:
In the living room is my father forcing me to do what was best for him. He didn’t even ask me. Now I see how I forced my little granddaughter (3 years old) to focus, because I wanted her to do this to get a solution for her crying. That is the way how I as a child was always forced to do what the adults liked me to do.
Focusing experience 3
Imagine a time and place where an adult praised you
imagine a time and place an adult punished you
I can feel now that I have become very dependent on being praised by someone. I can’t feel it in myself if it’s alright or not. My mother admired me, never asking if I could feel that myself. I do the same with my children. I thought it was the best I could do.
Praise and punishment are very important issues. However, praising feels better than punishing, the ‘locus of control’‘ is outside the child in both cases. The child often has a silent reaction: ‘you don’t know how I feel myself inside’. So, when you praise a child, ask after that: “and how does that feel for you?” And when you are at the point of punishing, be aware that punishing never has an intrinsic value for the child. You can tell the child its behavior is not desired. And here you make a distinction for the child between what it does, its behavior, and who he is: the child you love.
Focusing experience 4:
Go back to a time and place that you were a happy child....see how this influences your relationship with and expectations of the child now
Go back to a time and a place where you felt unhappy as a child....what does this experience have to do with your relationship with the child now.
For all the members of the group it was revealing to discover that their childhood experiences had so much to do with their relationship with the children.
I regularly give time for focusing in general on what has come up. Group members appreciate that. Working with experiences on children evokes a lot of movement inside. It is not only the own childhood experiences, but also reminiscences as a parent or being in another relationship with a child. Discovering where it went wrong, where we were angry, shouted to a child or forced it, can give a bad feeling inside. I have the feeling that it is contradictory for our focusing way to go on working on teaching children without regularly paying intention to what happens inside of the group members.
Basic focusing attitude of the adult
The basic attitude with children covers three fields: in daily life, in teaching focusing, and in guiding in focusing. Of course they are connected with each other, although there are some specific items.
Basic attitude in daily life
What is it inside us that we so often are convinced that we know what is best for a child. We like to control, order, making rules and laws. We decide for them what to do and what not to do. We say we need to protect our own boundaries because a child will ask always more. Why are we shouting at them.
How would it be to have an attitude ‘with’ children, and not ‘for’ children, let alone against children
Being with children is in my opinion a loving, neutral, and a little bit laconic attitude, clear and firm, with respect for the child’s uniqueness. A group member added: ‘with an immense honesty towards yourself’.
Here I developed some possibilities in attitude to aim at by focusing and training, as I also do for myself.
I asked a group member to take the position of the son (16 years old), who was sent away from highschool by one teacher for this particular lesson. He felt he was not guilty, just the one being punished for the bad situation in the class.
My son told me that the teacher had screamed the most terrible things at him. I felt quite anxious about the whole situation, but the first day I could listen to him and be with him how terrible he must feel. The second day he refused to go the lesson of this teacher, and came home. That made me furious and I shouted and he shouted and were very angry at each other.
By taking the position of the son and playing the same situation, she could feel how humiliated her son must have felt, how angry and left alone, both by the teacher and by her. In the next simulation exercise, someone else played the role of the listening mother. After that she said:
In this way I feel respected. Now I can more easily find my next step.
Reflective listening is always our basic attitude with children of all ages. With children this should be even more true than when we are with adults. Adults are more in a position to be able to protest in some way, however, not always easily. A child is dependent of the intentions of the adult persons around.
By listening we let the child know we hear it till it is clear for him/her. It is important to listen till the story is finished.
How marvelous it is to use the sentence: “There is something inside you....”. With this sentence you give the message that you listen and at the same time you let the child know that it isn’t totally drowning in a problem or emotion. The child can relate to a problem in this way.
There are moments you talk for the child, giving words with your full empathy to what you imagine is going on in the child.
It gives again room for the child when you ask after that: “does this fit for you...do you feel it like this?”, leaving time for a reaction.
It is important to be aware of the difference between ‘what’ happens and ‘how’ it happens. We used to play in our course how we can ask: “do you like a cup of tea?” Most of the times we come to 12 to 14 different ways to ask this. Great fun to do, and to discover that the cup of tea doesn’t matter as much as the tone of the voice.
Second step is to play in as many possible ways: “hang your coat on the hat-rack”, to discover what makes the child cooperative, with responsibility for is own behavior.
It is striking that up till now only women were in the courses. Where are the fathers? However it is striking that the mothers told me that their partners made changes too in their behavior towards their children, mostly without talking about it. This is a more silent revolution and very good for the whole family.
Basic attitude when we teach children to focus
When we start with empathic listening to a child in the mothers belly, and start with teaching focusing when a child is very young, it happens just so naturally. Children love focusing and for them it is very natural to do so, especially when they are used to it from a young age.
Some problems may come when teaching focusing starts at an older age. Something new is coming in and more than once a parent or adult working with children heard a child, including one of my own children, say:
“don’t load your focusing stuff on me”
It is very important not to be too eager ‘to do focusing with them’. Take time and make them curious, offer a little bit and wait till they come to ask for more experience.
A mother told in the group:
I asked my daughter Jolise (10 years old) if I would tell something about the course I’m taking. She agreed and I told her and explained what I am learning about feeling what is going on inside me and her. I asked her if she would like to do some small exercises to begin with. She liked it very much, especially feeling inside what comes with the imagination of her dearest teddy bear.
Two days later she asked if we could look again at what she felt inside.
One way is to start the teaching steps as I will explain later, and to go slowly with little steps at the time. Don’t immediately expect results and beautiful processes. The less you expect the more room there is for something to happen.
Basic attitude in guiding a child in focusing
The other way is just to start when the child comes up with a problem. At that moment you can offer the child to have another look at its problem, and ask if it wants to experience this with you.
Up till now I know one father, not yet following one of the courses, who is involved in ‘sitting’ with his son, (10 years old). He told me:
My son had problems with doing his sums. He went to another
school, but again he failed with his sums, because he was behind the learning level of the other children in the classroom. At a certain moment he got a pain in his belly and refused to go to school. That was the moment I started to look inside with him what was going on. I proposed it to him as an experiment. I myself was not sure how to do this, but I thought what is good for me, may be good for him too. I felt clumsy.
I just asked where he felt all that of the sums inside and what came up from that. He told me it was a mess with dark and ugly faces. I asked if he could stay with them, maybe with a little distance. The faces were the children pestered him for being so lazy. He discovered that that was the worst of all. Suddenly he told me that butterflies were coming, more and more butterflies with beautiful colors. He smiled and said: “they come to help me...they say that it isn’t so bad with me...it feels much lighter now...I will take them with me tomorrow”. Since then he went to school more easily and some time later he asked to do the ‘hocus-pocus’ again, because he couldn’t remember the word ‘focus’. Since then he asks for ‘hocus-pocus’, with a special sound in his voice.
Children don’t like our expertise so much, because it leaves little room for them. It is better to go a little bit hesitatingly and looking for the right way, giving enough safety by being there for him/her. This example is about giving space, not forcing, being with the child.
Emphasize that they never need to tell what comes up, or what problem it is about, and that they can always tell what they want to let you know. And emphasize your secrecy towards others, even the other parent or the teacher, and that you can both deliberate if and when it is good to talk about something with others.
If the child refuses to talk about it, be honest and respect its wish and take a later opportunity to talk with the child about it.
I like to tell children that I can handle a lot and that they don’t have to be careful with me in that respect. This is because children often want to save adults, or they think what is inside them is too bad to tell anybody.
Focusing at different ages
In this part I describe guidelines for how you can teach and guide children in focusing. I give the guidelines one by one in the course ‘Children focusing’, gradually building up the whole process as I do with children too. In the course we also practice it in couples.
Focusing is a lifelong art. It is however important to differentiate between the different ages. I will give indications of different ages (babies, children 2 to 6 years old, children 6 to 12 years old, adolescents), and I always make clear that individual children are all different, so we can never have strict divisions.
In Holland we have some customs to make contact with the unborn baby, wearing a bell, stroking, and talking to the child. When the child has been born it may immediately lie on the mother’s belly and some time later the mother likes to carry it against her body, when shopping. We also have courses ‘massage for babies’.
I propose a new mother to immediately start talking with her baby in an listening reflecting way, giving words to what she imagines is going on in her child. Especially when giving birth wasn’t easy for the baby. Just tell your baby how you understand its pain and sorrow, as did the mother who was in our course. Giving birth was difficult, the doctor even attaching a very tiny screw in the scull to check the heartbeat. Maybe life saving, but the baby does not understand that with its perception! The mother explained everything, understanding, apologizing, and giving words to its painful experience. The baby already listened the first day with open eyes and was very attentive. She became very peaceful because of her voice. In spite of the heavy experience it is a very quiet and contented baby.
Here is already true that a human being can bear heavy circumstances when it has only been heard.
I’d like to tell also how our Hungarian colleague and friend started with her baby. They wanted very much to adopt a baby. This little boy was 4 weeks old when they saw him for the first time, and with 6 weeks they were allowed to take him home. I was lucky to be in Hungary at
that time. As soon as I met the new mother I proposed to her to talk with their baby, still in hospital, about the whole story of his life, with a lot of details. She told me later:
This is what I told him...everything I could think of...bit by bit...about how he was born...that all of a sudden he missed his mother ... how bad that felt for him...how sorry I was for him...how strange the world must have been for him since then...that we have chosen exactly for him and nobody else... how strange my smell will be for him...and also my new voice...and how excited we were to bring him home...for ever his home...and he would meet his little cat, already waiting for him...I myself was so happy to do this...it made me feel so connected with him...and every time he looked so attentive at me as if he precisely understood what I was telling.
I saw the new family on the first day the baby came home. He was such a quiet, contented baby, although you would expect a baby to be upset with so many changes in its young life. Would there be a connection?
Children 2 to 6 years old
It is important to listen very carefully to children of this age, because it takes time till what is going on in themselves has been formed into words. We can help the younger ones to give words with all our empathy and imagination to what can go on in them. After that you can feel and see in the non-verbal expression if it was right.
We can help them to express their bodily felt feeling outside through colors and movement of the drawing hand. I discovered 2 years ago how I could help my 2 year old granddaughter Yazz with focusing, and especially drawing, giving colors how it felt inside:
Yazz would stay with us overnight together with our elder grandchildren. At about 6 o’clock she was very tired, but didn’t want to go to bed. She cried endlessly: “I want my daddy, I want my mummy”. I did everything I used to do by staying with her, but nothing could comfort her.
And then I sat with her on the ground, with colors and paper. I asked, offering her the box with colors: “what color does your sorrow have”. Without hesitation she took the dark blue one. I talked and repeated with a soft voice: “you can draw all your sorrow and sobs”. She started to make horizontal stripes to and fro in a fluent movement. that she could now put all her sorrow on the paper. Her sobbing diminished, the tone of her voice changed and she said angrily: “I want my daddy, I want my mummy”. I asked: “Could you draw that too?”. She made some unconnected vertical stripes, with power. She released a deep sigh and said: “So”, stood up and went on playing again.
I was astonished myself at that time, hardly believing it could be so simple. Later other adults had the same kind of experiences, reinforcing that this is a good way to be with small children in a focusing way.
Children 6 to 12 years old
When children have grown up with focusing it is a natural ongoing process, they don’t need any special teaching. What I will describe now is meant for children who are new to focusing.
From the age of 6 on we can really teach children to focus, the younger ones with few words and the older ones we can explain more. At my school, where I’m a child psychotherapist, I have experience with the children in therapy between the ages of 6 to 12.
I also taught my teacher-colleagues especially in ‘clearing a space in the classroom’ as I described in the Folio, summer 1997 issue, and in guiding focusing by children.
In therapy I use both guiding and teaching, so the children
can be in a focusing way outside the therapy hour too.
In therapy I always do teaching and guiding at different moments.
Guiding takes place when the child comes up
with a problem and I often include drawing.
At other moments I will teach about focusing,
explaining and experiencing with examples.
Mixing teaching and guiding might be confusing for the child.
We can use the steps I developed in therapy as parents,
as teachers and in other situations as well.
At first you can go step by step as I will describe
and slowly on it will become a fluent process.
I have written text and explanation as I use them, as examples, hoping you will find your own style.
The teaching steps:
- Sensory discovery of the body
- Bringing awareness inside in the body
- Discovering the Felt Sense about something
- Discovering the Felt Sense about something and drawing it
- Waiting what comes up from the Felt Sense and drawing it
- Feeling the bodily change
- Being with the new feeling of space, new air, and maybe drawing it
Helping the child to sensory awareness inside its body
To get children used to sensing inside their body the adult can introduce some movements and exercises.
At first this is a preparation phase in its own right. Later on you can use some of these instructions to bring awareness into the body. Here are some examples.
- trample with your feet, and then touch your heart to feel how it is beating
- pull your shoulders up as high as you can towards your cheeks
- clench your fists and feel what is happening in your body
- clench your teeth. What do you feel?
- how is it inside your body when you are going very high on your swing
- watch your breath and feel with your hand on your belly how it moves up an down
- what is happening inside when you imagine biting in a piece of lemon / something very sweet? (depending on your local favorite delicacy for children)
Use your imagination to do more different things. Make a game of it. You can do this with several children at the same time. The children will enjoy it.
Bringing awareness inside in the body
For children it is as important as for adults to create a safe place to make their inner journey. Make an appointment about time and place with a child when you are also ready to make a clear space inside yourself.
Then you can start with the following sentences to bring awareness inside:
- feel your feet on the ground
- feel that your body is sitting in the chair and is leaning against the back of the chair
- feel how your breath is going in and out
- if you like it, close your eyes
- now let yourself go down inside your body as with an elevator and stay in the middle.
Children often focus with their eyes open. Never insist on them closing their eyes.
Now you ask the child to say to him/herself inside: ‘Hello, dear child’.
In this way children get more respect for themselves and they create a warm climate inside.
Discovering the Felt Sense about something
You say with each instruction to be patient with what comes up in their body and ask how it feels.
Emphasize that taking time is very important, because such a feeling can be very soft and vague in the beginning. Tell them that those bodily felt feelings can have important stories to tell. Because the Felt Sense is always about something. You can offer these examples as exercises:
- stand like a tree and feel what happens inside your body
- feel like a rose, a dwarf, a giant
- imagine something hard and be aware what you feel inside
- also with something soft
- your dearest pet-animal
- a very dear person
- when you have succeeded at something.
Discovering the Felt Sense and drawing it
The new step here is that the child is going to draw its experience, situation or event, and that the child asks inside what the colors are that go with this experience, and what kind of movement its hand wants to make on the paper.
Drawing, also when more things may come, is so powerful because the child can look at it and can really feel the room that it gives. Most times they are deeply involved in the drawing. Often the Felt Sense forms itself by the drawing more and more. We can see this in the drawings of Marc (4 years old). He is very angry. I chose for these ones because the process is so clear, because he started again 3 times. First he makes the small drawing you have seen above. After asking him if there is more coming from inside, he starts to draw once again, where other children continue to draw more and more on the same paper most of the time. He puts this drawing aside and starts the third one on the next page. Now he is drawing with a red face, fully concentrated. He ends with a sigh of relief. You need to tell the child to be aware that paying attention to good feelings and drawing them makes the good feelings stronger and more lasting, they stay with you. And that paying attention and drawing bad feelings is so helpful to diminish them and to let them go.
This time the child needs paper, colored pencils and crayons. Watercolor is even more expressive.
Tell the child this isn’t drawing like we normally do. It is important to tell it that it doesn’t have to make a beautiful drawing and that it doesn’t need an eraser, because the child itself knows what it means.
They can also use the other side of their paper or take a new sheet.
When the child has its eyes closed, don’t forget to tell it to open its eyes to draw. Sometimes they are so obedient and wait!
First take time to help the child to let the awareness come up inside, before you say the next sentences:
Imagine yourself being at the beach...what comes in your body...for example in your belly or your chest... when something comes, you take time to feel inside what picture, word or color goes with that...just what comes up in you...draw from what you feel inside...and from what just came: you know it doesn’t have to be a beautiful drawing ... just how it comes from the inside...
Sometimes only a color or different colors may come.
Other possibilities are:
listening to your favorite music
playing with your dearest friend
lying in your bed
Be aware with these questions that they may evoke good feelings as well as bad or difficult feelings. For example because of bad memories, feelings of loneliness or nightmares. Just stay with it till relief comes.
A way to explain focusing to a child
I’ll give a text you might use to explain focusing to a child when you assess it is important for this child to get an explanation, also dependent on its age. You can give it part by part, as much as the child can take in. Written down it now seems a very serious text, but in reality it is better to have an attitude as if you are telling it as ‘by the way’, otherwise the child might not trust what it can easily feel.
When something unpleasant happens, you can feel that somewhere inside.
We can have good, happy, warm places inside and also difficult, nasty things, something bothering you, or what doesn’t feel good in your life. Your body is like a bucket where those things are stored. And you
can feel that somewhere in your body.
Do you sometimes have something like that?
By adding its reaction you keep the child company, being with it instead of with your monologue.
Often a child reacts pointing out something like heavy, itching, pinching.
When you feel such a heavy or itching or pinching feeling in your body it is sometimes as if it will never
never again be nice in your life. Then it is difficult to listen and to concentrate on your work, isn’t it?
Sometimes you try very hard not to feel that and not to let it come out. So you push that down in your
body, for example by swallowing your tears so that you get a constricted throat, or by drawing your
belly in. It is as if you have a bucket inside you and it all comes in your bucket. And then you get a hard
or heavy or dull feeling inside your body. Do you recognize that?
Feeling it and saying “yes” to that feeling inside can help us to solve our problems. I do this myself
too and it helps me to feel better. We are going to listen inside to those heavy, difficult feelings and
you know what? Then they will slowly disappear.
Sometimes you already know which problem or situation that itching, heavy or dull feeling is about but
often you do not yet know what makes it so bad. Other times you just have that feeling and you don’t
know what it is about. Then you can wait and listen inside your body till something comes that makes it
clear what it is about, because such a feeling in your body has a story to tell and your body slowly
discovers: ‘it is about this’ or ‘that is making it so bad’.
It is amazing that such feeling and its messages like to come softly around the corner when we are
very quiet and friendly with it, no matter what comes. You can say a nice ‘hello’ to it in the same way
you can say ‘hello’ to a nice friend. Something unexpected is going to happen.
And then you can draw this problem or situation and what comes about it. You know that it doesn’t need
to be a beautiful drawing. Just how your hands want to express this. Sometimes a feeling only brings
some colored stripes, circles or scratches.
When you draw your nasty, heavy, difficult problems and feelings together with what comes from
inside, you can look at it, and you can feel more space inside yourself, cheerful and more quiet again, and you can breathe better. You will discover that it is alright to feel those nasty feelings about problems and that it is the way to get rid of them.
Would you like to experience this with me?
Guiding the child in focusing
So far, the guidelines consisted of preparatory steps to be made when you teach a child to focus. And I gave an explanation how you can tell the child about focusing. Now we can follow the whole focusing process and guide the child’s focusing, making the experiences connected with the child’s daily occurrences and bodily feelings.
The whole process
Help the child to bring awareness into its body.
Ask the child to say to itself:
Hello, dear child …
Maybe you have a problem or difficult thing… that you experienced… today… yesterday… or long
ago… that it still bothering you… maybe you still feel that somewhere in your body, or you have
a sad feeling … an angry feeling… or anxious feeling … somewhere … can you feel that in your
When the child has given a reaction you can ask:
Where do you feel that?
The child starts to point and explain.
How does that feel inside our body … can you describe that feeling
Most of the time children can easily indicate these Felt Senses in their body.
take you time to draw it … you open your eyes to do that… after drawing you go back to… that place in
your body, where it was … does it somehow feel different now?
More often we have more than one thing that is in our way .. .so take your time to go inside again …
maybe you close your eyes again … you let another something that feels bad inside your body come
up … sometimes it is just a bad feeling without knowing what it is … maybe this feeling has a color…
let your hand with pencil move across your paper …
And you can go inside another time to bring still more outside … and each time you will get more
Now you can feel your whole empty space … and you can draw that … perhaps you’d like to do that on
a new sheet.
Now you can take one of your problems if it wants to tell you more… feel again in your body where all
that of the problems comes from… wait with inner attention what comes from that … you will feel some
change inside when it fits … maybe that has a word or picture or colors… you can draw what just came
as a change … to reinforce it…
In the introduction I wrote the first example, where I gave 2 simple instructions to a mother, and what followed? And now I gave such an extended record of a focusing process, that almost seems like an adult’s process. In this wide range of possibilities focusing by children takes place.
If you give a child enough room, it will come back for a new experience. In general children are easy to approach at this age. And it is a very rich experience to go through it with them. From children we can learn how natural focusing is.
6 Focusing by adolescents
Adolescents are in the midst of their independence struggle, looking for their own identity. Focusing is very helpful for them, but not always guided by one of the own parents. Most of the times it is too close even when they don’t tell what is going on inside during their focusing process. So for guiding adolescents it is often good that someone outside the family is doing that.
In my opinion teaching focusing with youngsters (outside of therapy) is the main way to help them to find their own direction.
It is the best way to react with the basic empathic listening attitude towards the youngsters in the process of becoming an adult and finding their own way. A mother told us the first meeting:
I’m in big trouble with my daughter (16 years old), who doesn’t want to make any contribution to the household. She lives like a stranger in our home and it makes me so upset.
The second meeting she told us:
I have consistently listened to her and repeated what she said, no comments, advice, questions, remarks. It gave me pleasure to do so. I got a feeling of freedom. And you know, yesterday she came home and we had a close talk again since a long time. She told me that everybody found her so sturdy and independent, and inside she was feeling so insecure and weak. She asked about focusing if it could help
her. I told her that she could look for her bodily feeling about all that, and wait for what would come. I gave her something to read. I kept my self at a good distance, and I felt good about that.
My experience is that it is quite possible to guide focusing also with your own children from about 20 years old. Our children and in-laws were and are still in my courses and I have also guided them in individual focusing sessions. It is very rewarding to do so.
I’m happy time and again when I read what my son wrote as pause-text on the screensaver in my new notebook:
“Did you already focus today?” Isn’t that marvelous.
I took courage to write my experiences down in your Liber Amicorum, because the group members were so enthusiastic about the course ‘Children Focusing’. They asked for more, a second grade course, feeling that they could already practice what they had learned, with a change for the better in their families and work settings. Someone proposed to bring children together with adults in a next course. Maybe it could be a next step to develop a course where adults and children can work and experience together.
Who is not sorry that s/he did not learn focusing in her/his young years?
We all know that parenting, and raising children in our schools and children’s homes is the most difficult task in a human being’s life. And for parents there is no education and in most of the professional institutes we learn how to discipline children and how to get the task done as is the case in schools.
Here I’m not yet talking about the millions of children in danger by adults’ war and fighting.
How can we help children to become adults who are able to handle life’s difficulties in a peaceful way?
I was surprised that in the Hamburg Focusing-Bibliography (1991) only 12 of the about 275 titles were about children. In the meantime more articles come, even messages by e-mail. Being involved in Children Focusing we are still in infancy. In Holland we say: “we stand in children’s shoes”.
In May 1996 at the International Conference we started the international platform for anyone who wants to further Focusing by children. We called it “Children’s Corner”.
We want to share our knowledge, experiences, stories, messages, ways to spread the work, to develop and to bring ‘Children Focusing’ into progress.
Just let us go to work and do it, because focusing is the crux of life so we should start early: in childhood.
About the Author
Marta Stapert (born 1935) a Youth Social Worker since 1957. Since 1975 she has had a private practice. Since 1985 she is a Child psychotherapist and connected to a primary school for children with learning disabilities and social/emotional problems. Since 1986 she integrates Focusing in psychotherapy. She is connected to the University of Professional Education of Amsterdam. In 1993 she became a Focustrainer.
She gives Focusing courses and Focusing training. She developed a project ‘clearing a space in the classroom’ with her teacher-colleagues at her school. Since six months she has been giving courses ‘Children Focusing’.
She is married, her husband is a focustrainer in training. They have been therapeutic foster parents since 1964. They have 5 children (between 26 and 39 years old), and 3 grandchildren (4, 8 and 10 years old).
They both work in Hungary regularly with focusing and supervision.
Address, also for ‘Children’s Corner’: Marta Stapert, Schardam 9, NL 1476 NA SCHARDAM, the Netherlands, tel/fax 0031-299-401510
Here I give all the articles I could find about ‘Children and focusing’. I marked the ones I have read.
Boukidis, Z.F.(1985) A theory of Empathic Relations Between Parents and Infants: Insights from a Client-Centered/Experiential Perspective.The Folio IV, Issue 1.
Broertjes, A. (1996) Focusing in the speltherapie, een mogelijkheid?, literatuur-studie. Opleiding speltherapie Hogeschool Holland.
Bruinix, G (1993) The hard part is me. Learning children to focus with children. The Folio, Vol.12, nr.1.
Coyle,M.P. (1987) An experiential Perspective on the Mother-Infant-Relationship: The first eight months.
The Folio, Vol.VI, nr.1.
Duron, L. (1988) Focusing as a Means to Help a Child with Learning Difficulties. The , Vol.7,nr.1.
Groddeck, N. (1989 Focusing im Schulalltag; Über die aktive Ruhe, die vom Lehrer ausgehen kann. GwG-Zeitschrift 75
Groddeck, N. (1995) Focusing und Kunsttherapie. Text of presentation at the International Focusing Conference 1995.
Heintz, F. (1991) Focusing mit Kindern - eine Untersuchung zur Veranderung des ‘experiencing’ anhand geleiteter Übungen - eine Pilotstudie-. Diplomarbeit am Seminar für Psychologie der Universitat Koblenz-Landau
Jaison, B. (1995) Focusing on Parenting. The Folio, Vol.,14.nr.1.
Leijssen, M. (1992). Experiential focusing through drawing. The Folio, Fall 1992, pp.35-40.
Lutgendorf, S. (1988). Focusing with children. The Folio, Vol.7, Nr. 2, 1988.
McMahon, E.M. and Bruinix, G. (1991). How Adults Can Listen to Children in a Focusing Way. Published by: Sheed and Ward, P.O.Box 419492, Kansas City, MO 64141-6492. To order, call: (800) 333-7373.
McMahon, E.M. and Thompson, G. Teaching Children to Focus. Pamphlet Series of the Institute for Research in Spirituality, 6305 Greeley Hill Road, Coulterville, CA 95311.
McDonald, M. (1987). Teaching Focusing to Disturbed, Inner City Adolescents. The Folio, Vol.VI, nr.1.
McGuire, M. (1986), School Project “Teaching Clearing a space”.The Folio, Vol.V, nr 4.
Murayama, S and Yoshimi, I, Japanese video cassette ‘clearing a space in the classroom’; (under their supervision)
Marder, D. (1988). Rainbows and Dinosaurs: Focusing on Positive Qualities with a child.
The Focusing Connection, Vol.V, No.4.
Neagu, G. (1986) Focusing and Play Therapy. The Folio, Vol.V, nr.2.
Neagu, G. (1988) The Focusing Technique with Children and Adolescents. The Folio, Vol. 7, nr.4.
Rappaport, L. (1988) Focusing and Art Therapy. The Focusing Connection, Vol.V, No.3.
Santen, B. (1984) Focusing as an Initial Therapy with “Borderline” Adolescents. The Folio, Vol.III, nr.1.
* Santen, B. (1990) Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Erlebniswelt eines
12jahrigen und seine Veranderung - Ein Dokument. GwG-Zeitschrift
Santen, B. (1993) Focusing with a dissociated Adolescent: Tracing and Treating Multiple Personality Disorder, Experienced by a 13-year old Girl. The Folio, Vol.12, nr.2.
Santen, B. and Koopmans, G. (1980 Some Remarks on Experiential Psychotherapy with children. Client centered/Experiential Discussion Papers, Vol.IV, nr.1.
Stapert, M. (1997) Focusing in school. The Folio, Vol.16, summer 1997.
Yuba, N and Murayana, S. (1988) Clearing a Space with drawing in Play Therapy. The Folio, vol.7, nr.1.