Report of the workshop Focusing with Children,

2000, 24th and 25th of June in New York City

This is a message from Children’s Focusing Corner, Marta Stapert, Zack Boukydis, Ynse Stapert  

We wrote this report not only for letting you know how marvelous it was. We also like to give you some of the content we worked on, so you can use some of it, or get interested for a next time, maybe even for the 2e International Conference ‘Focusing with Children from 21 – 25 October 2000 in Hungary, organized by ‘Children’s Focusing Corner’, workgroup of the International Focusing Institute.  Workshops will be organized in 2001 in several countries in the world

From our experience in the First International Conference ‘Focusing with Children’ in 1998 in Hungary Zack Boukydis from the USA, my husband Ynse Stapert and I, Marta Stapert, from the Netherlands, knew we could cooperate very well together in training a group in Focusing with Children. Zack and I have a lot of experiences with children and parents to share with a group. Ynse knows so well how to work with a group so they can learn from their own experiences. The International Focusing Institute made it possible that this workshop could take place in New York City.

We were happy to be in New York with a group of 18 participants, wanting to focus with children. The house of Kiki, one of the participants, was an excellent place to work.

We wanted our workshop to be a model of working from the experience, from the inside out, and not from the outside in, as a lot of our teaching method still work. As focusing-experienced persons we are aware of developing our teaching methods in a focusing way. That means also that the members of the group have the wisdom already. The group as such has an intrinsic power if we work with that. We only need to evoke this for being able to use it with children.

We planned to work on 3 different levels:

Personal experience

On a personal level in the first place because it is inevitable to look at our own experiences and patterns from being a child and to make the connection with our attitude towards children now so we can develop a more clear

interaction with children. Second because working with Focusing with children evokes in ourselves a lot that likes to be heard.

Questions to be with in a Focusing way were among others:

can you make connection with a time and a place you felt happy, good listened to, as a child
can you make connection with a time and a place you felt sad, hurt, unsafe, not listened to

and with both questions : is there any way this might influence you relationship / expectations with a child now.

Other questions were:

what comes inside you when you connect with a child of …this certain age… - what qualities did you want from the adults
do you have a goal yourself in wanting the child to focus

Being with children individually and in groups

We developed exercises and experienced them in the group: how we can work with children individually in a focusing way.

These experiences can directly be transferred to being with a child.

For example how we started: connecting our felt sense about our name, if we hear our name…if we see our name…After drawing and decorating our names, we could show and share them in the group and hear our name back from the other group-members. As Focusing-trainers, who would like to give training to parents, teachers, counselors / psychotherapists in working with children

This workshop and the different parts of it can be a model, that can be transferred to training a group in the focusing work with children.

For example: for clearing a space each of us drew a page with leafs and the trunk for a big tree, laying it on the carpet. After that we could clear a space by writing and drawing on yellow fix-it papers our sorrows, concerns, problems and by putting them in the tree. The togetherness from this experience reinforced the clear space.

We were very lucky that Gloria Bruinix and Lucy Bowers, from Canada, were in our group. Both are experienced focusing-workers with children.

Gloria made the tape of Jackie, the 8 years old girl, responding in a free and growing way to Gloria’s fine-tuned listening and following the child with beautiful sentences as:

is this what it is like for you
your inside knows the right answer
not knowing is also alright
and Jackie telling: I have a lot of things that I don’t think I know, but I know.  

Lucy developed the “elevator-ride” as teacher in her work with her class. She not only told us the background and method of the elevator-ride, but also gave us the direct experience, pretending to be a child of the age we choose ourselves. Important is that Lucy always gives the opportunity to symbolize the experience with drawing, painting or other forms of expression. We will describe the elevator-ride for you later.  

The other goal we had was to spend time for the different ages: babies, toddlers, basic-school age, adolescents.

Because of the extended experience and expertise Zack and I have in the work with babies, we offered an optional program at the evening of the first day. The group having so much interest in the subject made we could hardly stop after 3 hours working together.

Zack showed a video of a research . The pregnant mother could look with an echo for a longer time at the baby within her womb. There was a clear relationship. Zack also gave emphasis on the self-supporting abilities of the baby.

The baby not only get help, support, energy from the adults. The baby gives us also a lot.

I told, how babies can understand their own situation with their felt sense…how young experiences and even experiences around pregnancy and birth can get a lot of meaning in the child’s later life. That makes is so important we pay attention to heavy experiences just after it happened, even a few hours after birth Interesting is that we get more and more experiences now that talking with a baby in a focusing way. Tat means we ask at first permission from the baby if we may give words to his/her experience, and than with empathy and compassion we reflect his/her experience on the base of our hypothesis what the baby might have experienced, lived through. Of course is giving words to the feelings of the baby the core of the reflection. With careful observation we can see when the baby doesn’t listen any more. We observed regularly how the baby shows us if it doesn’t fit, or when the baby reaches her / his own limits! Just following is the secret also here.  

As soon the child can handle a pencil you can ask the toddler, young child to use colors to put the feeling on paper. The young child knows exactly which color belongs to the feeling, and how her/his hand likes to draw it. This brings a process of relief. The child learns to trust … to rely on her / his own power.  

With the basic school age we have already a lot of possibilities to help the child with focusing and with teach it, individually and in groups. We learned how giving a focusing-intervention to help the process to develop alternate with the always following attitude, without giving any direction to the content of the child’s experience. Also in the daily-life situation we discovered how a child doesn’t go into stubborn behavior if it has been heard, acknowledged, just by reflecting and staying in its world.  

In the start Zack, Ynse and I could say we had at least 80 hours training-materials with us in our back-sacks for this weekend. Is it strange we didn’t have enough time to really spend attention to focusing with adolescents? Only one important remark however is, that teenagers, who didn’t learn to focus from a young age, better can learn / profit from learning focusing from their parents, than from personal focusing with the parents. The process of separation and individualization is strong in this age, and we need to acknowledge this too.  

For this report we could only make a grasp of some experiences and subjects of the workshop,. It were really such exciting 2 days together. We now are making plans this group can continue their experience and an American working group from Children’s Focusing Corner can develop.  

Marta Stapert, Zack Boukydis, Ynse Stapert