FOCUSING WITH CHILDREN  (forword)
FOCUSING IN PLAY-THERAPY
FOCUSING WITH CHILDREN
FOCUSING IN SCHOOL

A Manual for 'Clearing a Space' in the Classroom
by Marta Stapert, 1997

 

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INTRODUCTION

 

First a little story that one of my fellow teachers told me at the very beginning of this program.

Michael hurt his hip during gymnastics this morning Previously I would have said.- "just go on and then you won’t feel anything anymore." The rest of the day he would disturb everything in every way he could think of. Now I thought: "How can I do it Marta’s way ", and I said to him: "your hip is hurting, isn’t it. Is it bad?". He looked surprised at me, a little bit suspicious. I asked: "where do you feel the pain? Michael pointed at his hip and said. "It happened because Peter was pushing me". I said "Is there something about it you can feel inside?". Michael said: "Here in my belly .. but it is not that had" and ran off to the other children. Nothing was wrong with him for the rest of the day. That saved me a lot of energy.

In the beginning teachers are afraid that it will take a lot of time to give this kind of individual sing attention. Now my colleagues have discovered how easy it is and how quickly child and teacher in a good energy state again without loss of time.

This teacher could react like this after following a first basic course in focusing and voluntarily cipating in a group project to integrate Focusing, especially 'clearing a space' in the school. This project has been supported by the management of the school as the advancement of expertise.

I attended the certifying Intensive workshop at the Chicago Focusing Institute in 1993. A Japanese e showed me 'Clearing a space in the classroom'. This Japanese project is under supervision of hoji Murayama. It immediately had my full attention and love. Together with the article of Mary McGuire, Psy.D. about her school project in Canada, this was enough to get me to start this project in my school.

Later I read articles by Gloria Bruinix, Bala Jaison, Susan Lutgendorgf, Diana Marder, Marianne Thompson about focusing with children. What I read was very helpful in continuing on my path.

The workshops of Mia Leijssen, Norbert Groddeck and Laury Rappaport, who are working with drawing and painting in the Focusing process, gave me further inspiration to integrate drawing 'clearing a space’.

After preparation time, in which three colleagues followed the basic focusing course, we started our project 'clearing a space by drawing in the classroom' in September 1994. Gradually more colleagues followed a basic course, both teachers and other colleagues, assistant-directors, a speech-therapist, a logist and one of the supporting staff, altogether 22 persons. Some of them left our school and went to other jobs, others got other positions in the school. At this moment 11 teachers are regularly working the focusing program 'clearing a space by drawing' in their groups. All of them are busy integrating focusing attitude with the children in their work.

Two years ago I had the opportunity to do a program on focusing with the whole staff with all ties represented during three sessions as part of the advancement of expertise.

In the third session we trained teachers on how to talk with parents using more of a focusing attitude.

In our school we work with children between the ages of 6 and 13. What I'm going to describe about ‘clearing a space' in the classroom is meant for this age group. Our school is a primary school for children with learning and emotional problems, and mentally retarded children, where I am a child-psychotherapist for only 8 hours a week. Our experiences, which I will describe in this article, are with our children. This affects the development of our program. We have a subject 'social-emotional education' in our school. Focusing has become part of this program, and we call it 'heightening concentration' -program.

When Ann Weiser Cornell met my colleagues, to share her expertise with them and give them support, she called us pioneers. We can hardly believe that it is true because the participants in the project are convinced that teaching children to focus is the first thing we need to do to help them grow up and become competent adults.

I thank all the teachers whom I proudly call my colleagues, because we are working together in the school and in our focusing program.

I am going to write down what we put together from the experiences of my colleagues, We developed and wrote up this program so that colleagues, new to this program, can use it in the classroom. We have regular intervision meetings of all the participants to exchange experiences, questions and problems in the classroom.

 

The goal of this article is to convey that:

teachers all over the world, who follow a basic focusing training program, can use this as a guide to work with their groups.

focusing-trainers, who are involved in, or have experience with, working with children, can bring this program to the teachers

school management can get insight into the significance of focusing in the school, so they can introduce and support this program.

I'm very much aware that there is a different climate in every classroom. That is true for our school, but still more across the world. So this is no more than a guideline from one Dutch school for special education. We hope you will make your own program.

This is not the final word about such a focusing program in the school. I would very much appreciate getting a lot of reactions from you the reader, to add something and make comments to help this program be even easier to use. Let us however never forget that most children easily focus, even without such a program!

At first I will describe our program. I have written the examples in italics, and comments and reflections in small letters. The pictures are reduced versions of the originals with translated text between brackets.

The description is a guide on how to start the program in the classroom with solutions for all beginner’s problems. It may be clear that after some time teachers and children through repetition get used to different parts of the process.

After the description of the program I will write about some of the effects and problems focusing into the school, and how we are dealing with the parents.

 

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GOALS

 

Children can learn:

To make a connection with their inner bodily awareness.

That they can involve their bodily felt sense in their life.

That this bodily feeling has truth and meaning in itself.

How to relate to and deal with their problems.

They don't have to deny their problems and trouble, and they don't have to drown in their problems.

Peter is unusually quiet and withdrawn during the morning. He cannot concentrate on his work The teacher asks him to draw what is distracting him this morning. He draws his home and the neighbors home. "When he starts crying the teacher is with him, asking him if he wants to tell her something about the picture. "My neighbor will be buried today. He was my good friend. We went fishing together. He died all of a sudden". His tears are diminishing. The group is asking for the attention of the teacher. So she asks him to finish his drawing with what came now, when he feels like it. After some time he starts his schoolwork again and can work in a concentrated way during the rest of the day.

Children learn that they may feel their sad, angry, scary feelings, and that it is helpful to do so. Children learn to clear inside space by putting their bodily sense of a problem outside by drawing or painting the problem or the bodily felt sense of it.

Leonard (10): It feels like a fire in my belly. I don’t know what it is. It is red and some blue.

Children learn to know who they are.

Susan (9): Now I have put everything outside by clawing all my problems I'm Susan again. My drunken father is there on my paper and not inside anymore. Now I'm as normal as the other children are.

(translation text with picture: "I am drunk and an alcoholic")

Her self-image can change by putting this heavy issue outside Children can learn:

To trust their inner place that knows their truth and what is right.

That they themselves can have control about their feelings in their own situation.

To concentrate better on what they are doing

To ask for help.

Teacher: Mary (8) stays on the sideline against the wall, while the other children are skipping. Spontaneously she tells me: "I'm feeling creepy itches in my belly .. it is like a spider.. that doesn’t want me to jump .. but I do want to ... could you help me... how I can jump?

Before this she was too anxious to consider the possibility of help

Children also learn to listen to other children in an empathic way. Children learn to accept each other more.

 

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PREPARATION

 

For the teacher

In the beginning this project isn't easy, especially if you expect that everything will succeed inunediately the way you imagine it or when you expect immediate direct results.

The children are looking for their own way in this process because most of the time it is quite new. Some children can't find quietness in themselves in the beginning. They are asking how they have to do it all the time, because that is what they are used to.

You can only go step by step. Take your time. This process requires your patience and each time you are focusing attention on yourself

Take this manual as an option and a proposal. Most children can do focusing easily. To do focusing in a group is more difficult because of all the possible distractions. Focusing asks for a special climate that is different from what they are used to in the classroom,

The classroom is a very task-oriented place, however in the last few years more time has been available for creativity and personal development. Still, most of the time, the atmosphere is determined by the teacher including what is going to happen and especially the child's behavior. Discipline is coming more from outside than inside the child. Generally the teacher is there more for the child than with the child. The first and most important lesson we need to learn is to stay with the child. You know the children in your own group. Take time to find your own unique way together with them.

 

Basic attitude of the teacher

How would it be to start with a nice 'hello' to yourself, creating an accepting and friendly climate inside yourself for everything that may come?

Your own focusing is the basic attitude in your work with children.

Being in contact with your own Felt Sense helps you to do what feels right for you and for the child. Your Felt Sense will help you to find a new
communication with the child. Your real Felt Sense listening and your reflecting helps the child to find his/her own solutions. You will discover for
example that shouting and severe monologues to the child are no longer necessary.

A teacher told me that she had been warned about a new 6 year old boy, Benny, coming into her group. It was said that he was a very angry and even dangerous child. After one morning she was feeling desperate, because he had disturbed the group the whole morning by shouting and displaying maladjusted behavior. At the playground he had threatened other children with a sharp knife. "Help me, Marta, what can I do? Isn’t this too complicated for the focusing attitude? I could only be strict with him, reminding him of the rules in this classroom, but I could not get a grasp on the situation".

I asked: "You must have had a terrible morning. Can we feel with our empathic Felt Sense listening what we suppose is going on inside his small body"?. She said: "He must be very angry, maybe like a black color inside. It must be terrible for him to come in a group where all the children know each other. Maybe he is feeling very lonely himself. I told him to play with the other children and spent a lot of time with him, didn’t I"?

I asked. "How would it be if we mirrored what he is feeling? You remember the beautiful sentence "There is something inside you that... " How about using this repeatedly,,. The next day she told me: "It is not yet easy going with him, but he is more quiet than the first days and he is listening to me.

Feeling our own tension regarding the difficult behavior of a child, it is often difficult to take a step back and reflect on what is going on inside our own Felt-Sense places.

Feel each time if your relationship is helping the child to grow.

A climate in which the children can grow is also a right climate for schoolwork. In an atmosphere of safety, children can learn that they themselves have their true wisdom inside.

You respectfully acknowledge the inner knowing of what is right, and the wisdom of the child's body sense about something

 

Environment for the child

You do something special to define this time of 'clearing a space'. You can write it down on the blackboard in advance so children know that this special time is coming, for example 'me' or 'our bucket' or 'concentration'.

A teacher for young children (6- 7years old) expressed it like this:: " What does this ‘me’ with the little circle around it on the blackboard mean? Today we will work on ourselves. We will really be inside ourselves and I'm going to teach you this. And the circle around 'me' means also that you are only with yourself, not talking with each other or disturbing someone else.

Guiding a process means first of all creating a safe and free environment for everybody.

You let the children separate their tables and chairs to get the feeling that they have space for themselves (also the children disturb each other less). You can give children who are going to move a lot a special place in the back of the classroom so they can move without disturbing other children.

You can give an easily distractible child a separate place in a comer in consultation with the child. Restless children can for example, be given a soft cloth or a small ball to hold in their hand.

A teacher told me that it caused a problem when she gave one child a little piece of cloth, because several children asked for a cloth and she was not prepared for that.

 

Building up the program

We discovered that slowly going step by step (not to be confused with the steps of the focusing process) is the best way to get children used to focusing. So we developed the next step by step process.

Each time you introduce a new step you can repeat some experiences of the former step to build up the whole process.

Sensory discovery of the body

Bringing awareness inside in the body

Discovering the Felt Sense

Discovering the Felt Sense and drawing it

Felt Sense of good experiences and drawing it

Drawing from the Felt Sense all problems you have

'Clearing a space', the whole process

 

For each step you take as much time as your children need, not hurrying, pushing, expecting too much. When the children can easily do one step you can go to the next.

 

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INSTRUCTIONS THE TEACHER CAN GIVE TO THE CHILDREN

 

Sensory discovery of your body

To get children used to sensing inside their bodies we are using some movement 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. Use your imagination to do more different things. The children will enjoy it very much.

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 u feel?

Watch your breath and feel with your hand on your belly how it moves up an down

Feel the difference between breathing in and breathing out

Teacher: "some of you like to breathe very strongly. Feel how high your belly is going in that case. Now breathe softly and deeply
and feel what is happening now."

What is happening inside when you imagine biting on a piece of lemon or something very sweet? (depending on the local favorite
delicacy for children). This sensory training brought a boy (11) more sensory awareness, so his teacher could easily refer to it.

Marc has cramped fingers, arm and shoulder when he is holding his pencil. His teacher in individual interaction:

           Teacher: "How does it feel in your shoulder?"

Marc: "It is like iron and now it becomes softer!"

 

Because the boy learned to go with his awareness through his body he could let go of his tension. Another girl looked at her teacher with a
very confused expression when the teacher asked if she was aware that she was permanently pulling her shoulders up high. She had never attended a class in which this sensory training where 'clearing a space' took place.

Bringing awareness inside in the body

The teacher can give the next instructions:

Feel your feet on the ground.

Feel that your body sits on the chair and leans against the back of the chair.

Feet with your eyes closed how your breath is going in and out.

Make it very quiet inside and if you like it, close your eyes. Children often focus with their eyes open. Never insist that they close their eyes.

Now you ask the children to say to themselves 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

With each instruction tell the child to be patient with what comes up in his or her body and to check how it feels inside. Emphasize that taking your 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.

Stand like a tree, a rose, a dwarf, a giant.

Imagine something hard / something soft / your dearest pet-animal / a very dear person.

 

Discovering the Felt Sense and drawing it

This time you ask them to put paper, colored pencils and crayons on their table. Tell them today it is not drawing time as usual, even though paper and pencils are on their table. It is important to tell them that they don't have to make beautiful drawings today and that they don't need an eraser.

Teacher: Because you will know what is meant by your drawing.

They can also use the other side of their paper or take a new sheet.

The new step here is that they are going to draw their experience, situation or event. Let them ask inside. What is the color that goes with this experience? What kind of movement does their hand want to make on their paper?

"Imagine yourself..."

on the beach

playing with your fiend

listening to your favorite music

lying in your bed

After each question you can ask if they are aware that paying attention to the good feelings makes them bigger and gives a good feeling. Be aware that these questions may evoke difficult feelings. For example a bed is not necessarily a safe place for every child, (due to feelings of loneliness or nightmares). In that case you will give them individual attention. When they have their eyes closed, don't forget to tell them to open their eyes to draw.

Once I was very surprised that a new girl in therapy kept her eyes closed and didn’t start to draw anything, till a little voice came:
"Marta, may I open my eyes, otherwise I can’t see my paper."   I didn’t tell her and as an obedient girl she was used to waiting for instructions.

The empathic Felt Sense-listener knows how it is to be immediately there with your "sorry, it is my fault', And I would keep in mind to come back
to this issue of dependency.

 

Introduction of the Felt Sense: Good experiences and drawing them:

The next step is to make the experiences more connected to their daily life. "Today we continue to learn about how you can do more then just think about nice matters. We already learned that we can feel all our experiences in our body. You can feel nice things in your body, for example
in your belly or your chest. When you experience nice things in your life then there is something you can feel in your body about it."

Teacher: Who’s experienced something nice?

Children: My mother’s birthday, the amusement park, my cat, playing with my friend

Teacher: Now imagine how nice it was .. and when you become more quiet .. you can feel that nice feeling somewhere in your body ..Where do you feel that in your body .. ?

The teacher immediately makes what she is saying into an experience for the children.

Teacher: Feel if it is easier with your eyes closed .. Now let us get very quiet and listen inside and say to that feeling place: "Hi, nice you in there"

When something comes, take time to feel inside what picture, word or color goes with that. Just what comes up in you. Draw it on your paper so you can look at it to make the nice feeling stay with you. Drawing a nice feeling makes it still bigger.. You know it doesn’t have to be a beautiful drawing. Just how it comes from the inside is nice. Sometimes only a color or different colors may come .. Isn’t that nice to put on your paper?

 

Drawing all the problems from the Felt Sense

"We also have 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. Feeling and acknowledging what is happening inside helps us a lot to solve our problems. I do this myself too, and it helps me to feel better.

Start with some sensory exercises.

Teacher: Who sometimes has a sad, an angry feeling, an anxious feeling, in the morning when you come to school?

Children: Oh yes, I do!

Teacher. Where do you feel that?

Children: Pointing and explaining

Teacher: How does that feel inside your body?

Children: Itching, heavy, pinching, can’t breathe.

Children can easily indicate these Felt Senses in their body.

"When you feel such a heavy or itching or pinching feeling in your body it is sometimes as if it will never again be nice in your life. When it is difficult to listen to me 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 fears so that you get a constricted throat, or by drawing your belly in. It comes all in your bucket. And then you get a hard or heavy or dull feeling inside in your body."

Teacher: Do you recognize that?

By asking their reactions the teacher keeps the children company, being with them instead of for them.

"We are going to pay attention inside to those heavy, difficult feelings and you know what? They are slowly going to disappear.  Sometimes you already know which problem or situation that itching, or heavy or dull feeling is about. 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, because such a feeling in your body has a story to tell, and your body slowly discovers: 'It is about that'. It is amazing that those feelings and messages like to come softly around the corner when we are very quiet and friendly with them; No matter what comes, you can say a nice 'hello' to it as you would to a nice friend.

And then you can draw this problem or situation. You know that it doesn't need to be a beautiful drawing.. just how your hand wants to express this. Sometimes the feeling only brings some colored stripes, circles or scratches. When you draw your nasty, heavy, difficult problems and feelings, you will discover that they will disappear out of your body .. and it gives us the opportunity to look at them. You can feel empty, cheerful and more quiet again, and you can breathe better. You will discover that it is all fight to feel those nasty feelings about problems."

(translation text for picture: "I", "lonely, wham", "bullying")

 

'Clearing a space', the whole process

Help them to bring awareness into their bodies Ask them to say inside themselves: 'Hello, dear child!'. Now you ask inside if there is something that doesn't feel good ... something that you experienced ... today...yesterday .. or long ago ... that is still bothering you ... you still feel that somewhere in your body .. take your time to draw it ... or there may come a word or a sentence that fits ... you write that down ... you open your eyes to do the drawing or writing... 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 about ... maybe this feeling has a color .. let your hand move across your paper .. and you can go inside another time to bring still more outside ... and each time you will get more space inside ... till you have drawn everything ... Now you can feel your whole empty space...now you can draw that...perhaps you'd like to do that on a new sheet ... you still have 5 minutes to do so ... you can all use this time to finish your work ... if you are not yet ready to put everything out, you know you will get a new opportunity .. so you can promise inside you will come back.

 

Ending after 'clearing a space'

The teacher is clear about the moment of ending the drawing. After ending the drawing four or five children get the opportunity to tell a bit about their drawing. (not all the children, as the whole group sharing takes too much time, and the other children become distracted). Five children in a row, and every now and again the teacher asks each child if s/he wants to tell something. If not, s/he will get his/her turn the next time.

After the 5 children have talked about their drawing, the teacher asks if there are any children for whom it feels important to say something about their drawing. in this way a child, who worked on a difficult problem will not feel left out. It is important how the teacher formulates the questions.

A teacher told me: In the beginning I asked "Can you tell me what you have drawn?" "What is on your paper?" or "What did you draw?" The children started to explain more technically what they had drawn and the feelings did not come up. Now I ask: " What do you want to say about what you have drawn?" or "Can you say something about your drawing?" or "Would you like to say something about your drawing" and that produces much more openness, the child knows what she wants to tell.

At this point in the process it can happen that the child starts crying when s/he is talking about the drawing. The classmates are getting used to the crying now, and listen with much empathy and support.

Teacher: It was very revealing for the children and me to discover that the toughest boy (11) in the group started crying. After this we all saw him through different eyes, and he was more accepted in the group.

In the beginning children often ask-. "Do you like my drawing?", or "Is my picture beautiful?".

Teacher: I contributed to this behavior, because as teacher I am so used to praising the children. About every picture I said. "You did it very well." or "What a beautiful drawing", (contradictory to what I told them that it doesn’t have to be a beautiful drawing). Through my own focusing I learned to listen to my own words, to what I am saying. I become aware sooner, of when I'm not with the child. Then I can change my attitude.

Ending the program by listening to each other helps the children to listen to each other in an special atmosphere of respect, empathy. It is striking that children accept everything that other children have drawn or are sharing.

A teacher: Rick (9) is a very quiet, withdrawn boy with a soft voice. During draw ing he burst out and asked "How do I write 'Goddamnit? "', (a curse that is strictly forbidden in the school). When talking about his picture he repeated the word with a powerful voice. (Otherwise all the children would have reacted with disapproval). Now we all accepted it, including me. We kept quiet, understanding the importance of what changed in him.

 

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SPECIAL SUBJECTS AND OTHER FORMS OF EXPRESSION

 

When children are used to the whole program you can sometimes do a subject.

We discovered the following subjects:

To you: What goes with going to a friends' birthday-party?

To you: What goes with the night"

To you: What goes with having and not having friends?

To you: What goes with going to school?



(translation text with picture: "nightnwe")

The subject: To you, what goes with your family? Seems in our experience to intrude too much in the private life of the family.

Drawing is a strong means to help to form feelings and to express them. It helps keep distance between the child and the bad experience or problem or bad feeling. The possibility of looking at that drawing liberates the child from the problems.

It is striking that accidents, death, or anxiety about death of loved ones, are recurring themes in the drawings. These drawings are very precise most of the time.

How would it be to do 'clearing a space' on a special occasion, with painting, or physical expression through movement and dance?

 

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PROTECTING THE PRIVACY OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY

 

The drawings

The teacher keeps all drawings until the end of the year. No one outside of the classroom may have a look at the drawings. Sometimes the teacher asks the child if I may have a look at them to help a teacher or for me to learn from it.

When a child does not want anyone to look at the drawing they may fold it. We are very strict about sticking to that agreement.

At the end of the school year the teacher will discuss with the children what each of them wants to do with his/her drawing:  take them home or whether the teacher can keep them.

 

Parents and educators

At the first 'parents meeting' when the children come into a new group, the teacher explains about this program. The emphasis is on a program to heighten concentration and to solve concentration problems'. The teacher explains that it is a private experience for their child about which the child may talk but doesn't have to.

Several times we have discovered problems through the drawings of the children which were more severe and for which 'clearing a space' was not enough. In that case the teacher makes private time with the child.

In a case where that is not enough, we implemented another procedure (with agreement of the director):

When it appears to be important to involve the parents in a problem the teacher will first talk with the child and ask for his/her agreement. This may involve more than one talk with the child.

In a severe case the teacher can consult me and the director and as a result tell the child that we as a school take the responsibility for talking to the parents. Sometimes it results in play therapy with me, including focusing, and also coaching the parents. Sometimes outside help is necessary.

 

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DIFFICULTIES IN CARRYING OUT THE PROGRAM

 

Children disturbing each other

What I have described so far is how the program can work, it does not always go that easily in the classroom. There are a lot of organizational problems to overcome. This fight have to do with children who have emotional and behavioral problems. Disturbing each other is the biggest problem.

Teacher.- Before I start with our program I go to Richard to prepare him about what we eve going to do, otherwise he is so nervous about something he is not yet used to, that he begins to disturb everyone. I give him a special place (which he chooses).

 

Our teachers give a lot of personal care to the children.

Sometimes a child doesn't want to cooperate and is very negative about this "nonsense". The best thing we have found is to ask the child just to sit and make a drawing for him/herself. Even though the children have no instruction about what they have to draw, they are nevertheless very personal drawings. It appears that these children gradually - at their own speed - join in the program. A difficult moment for the teacher came with the young ones (6-7 years old).

Teacher: "The children showed their drawings and talked about them. Rosa did not stop shouting. With every drawing she said. not good, not beautiful, very ugly." It was so disturbing. Nothing worked to get her quiet except spending a lot of time with her, and I wanted to stay with the other children. Finally, I put her aside. I felt irritated. I had a bad feeling about it. " She promised herself to focus on it in the hope of getting more space to be with Rosa.

In the beginning it is very difficult to get a free, respectful climate, so the children do not disturb each other. Maintaining the usual rules of the school is very important here. For teachers and children it is a change to go from, "I know what good is for you and you will do what and how I want you to do," to "I trust who you are, and together we are going to discover what your way is to do the best thing, with respect for yourself and for others."

It appears that the longer the teacher works with the program, and the longer the children get experience with 'clearing a space' (to heighten their self-respect) the better and easier the process will work.

Children will get a climate in order to grow in their own direction and to let their own possibilities unfold.

 

The young ones

Until six months ago we only worked with children above the age of 8. We now have 3 enthusiastic teachers of the young ones in our group. It appears that the language we use is not always appropriate for children of 6 and 7. There are also mentally retarded children in the group. We are trying to adjust to their age and searching for new possibilities: finding new words and sentences and experimenting with pictures to determine what will be appropriate for young ones.

When several children start to cry at the same time

Sometimes a lot can happen in the classroom during 'clearing a space' when more children are in touch with sad feelings and difficult problems in their fives at the same time. Once a teacher had 5 children in tears and did not want to leave them alone, however, she could not be at 5 places at the same time.

She put a crying child together with a friend, who was able and ready to listen to him. Together they build share his tears and the story that went with them.

The only thing the teacher asked: "Can you just listen to him in a friendly way?"

At that moment she found a way to combine 'clearing a space' with teaching children how to listen each other. We plan to create a program about listening to each other in a reflective way.

Children learn how valuable it is to help each other.

 

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EFFECTS IN THE SCHOOL

 

For teachers and school management

Teachers gain personally by focusing for themselves. The teachers are able to create more distance in work using 'clearing a space' and that saves energy during the day. A teacher told me:

"Previously I could not get to sleep, my head was filled with worries and problems about the children and parents. Now I am able to connect with the issues. I put them aside and I can sleep."

The colleagues who are joining this program form an added dimension to the school. They are more loved with each other in a real listening way. They feel more connected and are getting more real apart from each other, spelling the same 'language'.

They are more aware of their relationship with the children. They can express what and how they to learn, and in what way they must behave. They are more in contact with what is going on inside the Id and being more with the child than for the child.

One colleague distanced herself and doesn't want to be involved in the focusing program anymore. She is afraid focusing is taking the involvement with the children too far. She said that it will be dangerous a child to get in touch with emotions. She is afraid of taking on the position of the psychotherapist. She 't take responsibility for dealing with the children's feelings in relation to the parents. And we respect.

Some colleagues fear that with the focusing attitude there will be no discipline in the school and that there will be exaggerated behavior among the children, as if the teachers must give up the  of the school, which are grounded in order and safety. We hope that it will become clear that in focusing you never give up things that are good. You can add focusing to any other method or approach and then it will give more space and calmness to the children and the teachers.

Teacher: "Lately I've taken a new step. After play time children often come into the classroom being very loud and boisterous. Previously it was difficult to get them quiet, only raising my voice seemed to work. No I go and sit down on my chair, and pay no attention to them. I focus inwardly feeling my body in contact with the chair, my feet on the ground, and I focus my awareness on my breathing. I ask the children to do the same and give some instructions. In a short time everybody can go to work quietly.

During the development of this program it was the teacher's choice to be involved in the program of focusing. It is inherent to focusing that it can  happen on a voluntary basis. The problem we have now is that not all teachers are part of the program. Children may do 'clearing a space' one year, and not the next. Some children don't worry about it, others do. One child, being angry in the classroom, said to his teacher:

Last year I could make a drawing when I was angry. The teacher said: "you know how to do that so go on", and gave him the opportunity.

The next step for us is to deliberate with each other trying to bridge the gap at the school management level.

 

Effects for the children

Most of the children who are not used to 'clearing a space' express their enjoyment of it, even if difficult things happen as a result.  They already prepare themselves before the teacher starts.

When a child comes with a problem during the day, the other children will show him/her how to draw it.

The program 'clearing a space' has added benefits. Teachers are going to learn that the focusing attitude is fundamental to daily interaction with the children. It is slowly becoming a little bit more usual to ask an angry child:

Where do you feel the anger and how does it feel there?

With this short sentence children can take more responsibility for their own behavior and emotions. By being in touch with their own experiences they don't have to point at the other child and make accusations adults what someone has done to them.

In our school teachers take time to have individual talks with children who have difficulties. Beforehand teachers complained that it would take still more time to approach children in the focusing way, especially in a one on one situation. Teachers are discovering that they are now more effective when they spend time with a child, and that it saves time and energy in the long run. They can enjoy seeing their children grow.

Teacher: Roy (10) is an anxious child with bad concentration. In the group he could not express himself during 'clearing a space'. He was withdrawn after that. Thee teacher made time for him. He told the teacher about his scary dreams. Again and again a creepy "spirit" came in his dreams. Now he could draw it and the teacher asked him if he wanted to say something to the spirit. Roy said "Go away." After repeating this short session once, the creepy spirit was gone.

Anxiety for the swimming lesson is a recurring difficulty in the school. Previously the teacher would persuade the child and say "I know you can do it."

Now one teacher gives Barbara (7) a piece of paper to draw her anxiety one hour before they leave the classroom for the swimming pool. Unexpectedly there is a lot of progress.

Another teacher is with a child that doesn't dare to jump into the water.

Teacher: Where do you feel that?

Sandra: In my throat, I can’t breathe.

Teacher: Could you say 'hello' to the feeling in your throat?

After a short time she jumped into the water.

 

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EPILOGUE

 

In describing this program I have given guidelines which we have gradually put together. In practice there still is a gap between what I have described and the practical application.

In view of the nature of focusing you can't impose such a program on every single teacher. It is practically impossible and contradictory to the focusing attitude.

If you are going to start a focusing program in your school, stay in close contact with your school management.

Teachers have a huge task in a pedagogical/didactic respect. They have their responsibilities for the whole group. Focusing can contribute to relieving their heavy tasks.

You have read this manual on how you can handle 'clearing a space' in the classroom. The examples I have given about moments in which something happened in a growing, forward way. Maybe it seems more positive than it is in reality. Don't be disappointed if it doesn't have great immediate results. You know that focusing is going step by step: small movements, a small bodily felt shift. Yet altogether it is so rewarding to see children grow in their own direction.

During my 8 hours of work I can only see 7 children each week, and make regular visits with the parents. I am aware of how many children in the school need special care and attention in a focusing way. The teachers can reach them in focusing! I'm very grateful to all my colleagues who have joined me on this path ... that still continues. I wish for all children the benefits of it.

(on forehead: "nothing" and "no more problems")

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Marta Stapert (born 1935) has been a Youth Social Worker since 1957 and started in private practice in 1975. She has been a Child psychotherapist since 1985 and connected to a primary school for children with learning disabilities and social/emotional problems. Since 1986 she has integrated Focusing into psychotherapy. In 1993 she became a Focusing trainer. Since then she has developed a project 'clearing a space in the classroom' with her teacher-colleagues at her school. She is married and her husband is a focusing trainer in training. They have been therapeutic foster parents since 1958. They have 5 children (between 26 and 39 years old, 3 grandchildren (4, 8 and 10 years old)

They both work regularly in Hungary with focusing and supervision.

 

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REFERENCES

Here I give the titles of all the articles I could find about ‘Children and Focusing’.

The articles marked with a dot 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?, litera

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 Disturbes, 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 videoband ‘clearing a space in the classroom’; under supervision of

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.

Rüdisser, H. (1986) Johannes und sein Gespenst. Aus: Focusing-Informationen.

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 78.

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.

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