As a hospital play specialist and counsellor I am often with children in potentially stressful situations where resilience is called upon. Studies have shown that one of the greatest comforts for a child is the presence of their parents or caregivers. I recently attended a workshop by Petrea King (and the Quest for Life Foundation) that has spent over 20 years working with people of all ages and their families when challenged by illness, and other major life events. The workshop was entitled “Resilient Children” and it gave deeper meaning into what it means to be a presence or ‘present’ in a child’s life. There is a difference between just being there and being present. To be present with a child means that we are fully focused and emotionally present in the present time. This means that we are not forward planning what we need to do for the rest of the day in our minds, distracted, caught up with what just happened, concerned about what others think… Sometimes simply being there can mean only our bodies are present whereas being present in its full sense involves our all of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects. An everyday example of my not being fully present was when I made my daughter a slice of vegemite toast when she very clearly asked for jam… I had an internal conversation going on in my mind and was only half listening. Peter Levine who writes about trauma also tells of the importance in emotional first aid of settling and grounding ourselves first so we are then present and equipped to tend to the child’s needs. If we find ourselves or our child in a stressful or potentially traumatic situation then being present can become more of a challenge. If the parent/ caregiver is also overwhelmed by an event then it may be necessary to bring in another caring adult who can help tend to the child whilst the parent/ caregiver has time to calm, settle and ground themselves. Children sense when we are not emotionally and mentally present for them and it can leave them feeling unprotected and overwhelmed. So one of the greatest ways we can support our children is by how we are in our ‘being.’
So how to be present and grounded? Everyone will find their own preferences, but it could include meditation practices or breathing into your whole body right down to your legs and feet. Practise the skills often and they can become easier to access under stress.
Sometimes due to circumstance if may not be possible to be physically there to comfort a child. Technology can help with the use of phones and the internet. You can also create your own rituals to keep connection with your child. This may be by sending kisses, hugs and love which the child may feel as tickles or a warm feeling, for example. Children can send their love too. And remember that the person you are wishing to feel connection with and send love to does not have to be living. Petrea has a lovely rainbow meditation available her website to be used for all these purposes.
Becoming resilient doesn’t have to be a sink or swim response when life throws us a curve ball. By learning to be more present, becoming more aware of our body sensations, becoming more emotional literate, and learning healthy coping and self care skills, we have a huge reservoir of skills that can be called upon when especially needed. Petrea stressed that it is not about what happens to us but how we respond that affects us. We can empower ourselves and children to have choices in the responses we all have.
Hospital Play Specialist and Counsellor
The Rainbow Mediation
Trauma-Proofing Your Kids
Peter Levine & Maggie Kline (North Atlantic Books, 2008)