Working with Children and Teens

Working with children means entering into their world and valuing their experiences. Through play, fantasy, movement and art, children will reveal their struggles as well as solutions. Children are brought to my practice for a wide range of behaviors and challenges. Some are distressed around family, school, peer or relationship issues. Others are troubled by body symptoms, obsessive compulsive behaviors, body image and weight issues, attention challenges. Some children are disruptive in school, in legal trouble, or dealing with addictions or disruptive eating patterns. I work with kids struggling around self-esteem and abuse issues, those who have been bullied as well as the bullies. Oftentimes working with children includes working with the family. Some parents bring their children to see me as a support to inspire creativity and the inner development of their child.

Case 1: Working with a Child with a body symptom

Stella is a relatively quiet nine-year old with asthma. I ask her how she experiences her asthma. She says it is hard for her to breathe and she puts her hands around her throat and upper chest, showing me how she feels constrained. We play around with my animal puppets and give them "asthma." We take the elephant, snail, dog and put our hands around their bodies to cut off their breathing. Stella is very engaged, using her hands with quite a bit of strength as she presses down on the animal bodies. I then take my panther out of the basket. Stella gets quiet and looks at the panther intently. "That panther is scary and has sharp claws," she whispers.

Stella is unable to give "asthma" to the panther. She stares at the panther almost with reverence wondering what she should do.

"How about if I do it for you?" I suggest.
"I don't think I would do that. The panther would pounce and claw if you try."
"That is a powerful panther," I say.
"Sure is. That panther is wild. If anyone does anything to her, she will strike back," Stella asserts confidently.
"I love that panther. I love that she is so wild and she can defend herself. What a great power. Let's play panthers." I suggest.

Stella's eyes get big when I suggest that we play panthers. I put the panther puppet on my arm and I make clawing motions and begin to give the panther voice. "I am a powerful animal. I love being wild and if anyone does something to me I don't like, I pounce and give a claw." With my other hand I take my alligator puppet and try and snap at the panther. The panther claws back. Stella is enjoying my puppet show. "Would you like to play one of the puppets?" I ask.

Stella takes the alligator and begins to snap at me. The two puppets wrestle. Stella is smiling. She now wants to try the panther. I put on the alligator and begin to snap at her with my alligator jaws. As the alligator, I also begin to speak. "You have to be quiet and not speak. You aren't allowed to be wild and powerful. Panther you sit down and behave yourself!" The panther hissed and clawed and said she could do whatever she wanted and no one could tell her what to do. "Oh yeah, what can you do?" I challenge.

"I can jump and get away from danger and I can say whatever I want. If anyone tells me something I don't like I can tell them to stop."

"Wow," I said, "you are incredibly powerful and I like that you know how to get away from danger." "Yup I can leap away and I can say 'stop!' in a very loud voice." Stella was radiant.

Her Mom then came in and we discussed how Stella was having a hard time at school with friends who were pressuring her to do things she didn't want to do. We imagined being a panther with those friends. Stella clearly stood up for herself, telling the friends to stop and that she didn't like how her friends were teasing other girls and doing things she thought were hurtful. She then suggested a game that everyone could play together.

Stella's asthma experience reveals a huge battle about her own individual voice and power. Normally a quiet and deferential child, Stella discovers a part of herself that can also speak out and take a stand. We can see the battle in her asthma experience; as the asthma maker Stella uses her hands to cut off breathing and silence herself. Another part of her struggles against this; the panther emerges as a figure that can speak her mind and defend herself.

Like all body symptoms, her asthma needs to be monitored medically. However, working with the dreaming process around it can also be healing and useful. While working with Stella and learning more about her panther powers, she experienced some relief from her asthma.

Case 2: Working with a child with behavioral challenges

Otis is five years old and his parents have brought him to see me because he won't pay attention in kindergarten and is rough with other children. Otis checks out the different toys in my toy-box. First we look at my smurfs, little blue figurines that have different personalities and expressions. He grasps the boxer smurf with glee.

"That's a great fighter you have there. Who is he gonna get?" I ask.

Otis looks through the figures and chooses the baby smurf. "He's gonna hit the baby."

"Why does he want to hit the baby?" Otis takes the fighter smurf and begins to hit the baby smurf, "Baby baby, you are such a baby and so stupid." I begin to play the baby. I cry and I say to please stop. The fighter ignores me and keeps going.

I tell Otis that I need another smurf in this battle. The baby doesn't know how to fight back. "We need some help," I tell him. I look around in my basket and Otis gets interested too. He excitedly finds the superhero smurf. "Superman can help!" "Great would you like to show me how superman can do that?" I ask.

I take the fighter and begin to hit the baby. Otis flies around with superman and then lands between the battle. "You have to stop he says. You can't hit a baby. You are much bigger. Stop that right now!" We repeat that scene many times. "I am superman," Otis exclaims. I support him, "You are superman, a wonderful superman. You can protect people, and babies, and also yourself. If anyone comes to hurt you, you have special superman powers." Otis suddenly puts his head down and says he really isn't superman that when his older brother Tim hits him he doesn't know what to do.

Our play has revealed the massive battle Otis is in the midst of. He needs to learn how to deal with his older brother, to connect with his superpowers. Like many children who are hurt by others or are somehow disempowered, their power then is expressed when they hurt and dominate others. Thus Otis is rough with others at school.

We talk and play further around becoming superman. Superman can get help from parents and can also tell older brothers to stop. Otis surprised me with one of his superpowers during our role-play. He confronted his brother and said "Tim if you were the younger brother you would want me to treat you nice. Be a better big brother."

This process continued when we invited his parents in and spoke to them about the situation at home. The parents had no idea about the dynamics between the two boys and had just thought they displayed normal competitive sibling rivalry. Family work and work with the two brothers was a valuable next step. A stronger person dominating another is a dynamic with interchangeable roles. Otis was being hurt and dominated in regard to his brother Tim. However, he was the hurtful one with children at school. In our family work it became apparent that Tim was feeling his power and dominance in relationship to Otis, but at school, he was being harassed by a bully. Children need to learn how to defend themselves and they also need to be aware that they can be both a bully and a victim.

Case with a Teen

Tiffany has brought her 17 year-old son to see me. Jeremy has dropped out of high school. Tiffany says that her son is depressed, seems to have no interests except video games and partying with his friends. She is upset about the direction of his life and that he would drop out in his senior year of high school.

Jeremy slumps down in the chair and isn't very communicative. Tiffany expresses her disappointment and her fear for Jeremy's future. She criticizes him for playing hours of video games. "What are you going to do with your life!" Jeremy shrugs, says he thinks he can get a job stocking shelves at a local store and then he can move out.

"But what kind of a job is that?" Mom comes back. "That is a minimum wage job with no future."

I ask Jeremy what he likes about video games. Mom can hardly keep quiet and listen to him. I tell her that I really do want to know more about Jeremy's video game interests and that I will come back to her shortly. She calms down momentarily and Jeremy describes in intricate detail about the games he plays. I ask Mom if she is familiar with the games and if she is able to understand what he is describing. She says she doesn't. I share that I don't really either, but I notice how excited Jeremy is talking about the games. I remark to Jeremy that it must take lots of skill to do what he does and that it sounds like he could even create some of those games. He looks down modestly and smiles and says that he actually has created a game. Mom interrupts "what good will that do you? You need a real job." "Yeah, like you?" Jeremy quips sarcastically.

"I work hard," says Mom. "I didn't have opportunities like you and if I did I would take them." "What would you have done?" I ask her gently. "It doesn't matter," Tiffany says. "It does matter!" says Jeremy. "You are really smart, you probably know more about medicine than most doctors, and you just spend hours each day cleaning up after people."

Tiffany gets quiet and her eyes well with tears. "I'm sorry Mom. I didn't mean to hurt you." I ask Tiffany what she is feeling. She says it is true what Jeremy is saying, that she is so disappointed in herself and hates her job. "Is that true you would have loved to have gone to medical school?" I ask. Tiffany nods her head. "Well, how about it, why not go to school?" "Oh, I can't do that now", says Tiffany. "Sure you can Mom. You can do it. I know you can."

Tiffany is touched by her son's encouragement. I am also moved by Jeremy's support for his mother. He is modeling something new in their relationship. He has felt pushed by his mother, but never really encouraged to follow his own dreams and interests. "You really believe in your Mom, don't you?" I ask. Jeremy nods and says he wished she believed in herself and really went for what she wanted. "That would be a great role model for you, to watch your Mom go to school and go after her deepest dreams, wouldn't it?" I ask. "It sure would," says Jeremy.

It becomes clear in our work that mother and son have shared a lack of belief in following their deepest dreams. Jeremy would actually love to be encouraged more in his computer and gaming interests and would love to go to college to study computer science. He has been depressed because his mother has been pushing him and hasn't really noticed or believed in his interests. Tiffany and Jeremy make a deal to go back to school and to support each other in their interests.

Select One of the Following:
Body Symptoms and Illness
Relationship and Couple's Work
Family Work
Extreme States of Consciousness (so-called Psychiatric diagnoses)
Comatose and Non-Verbal States of Consciousness
Working with Children and Teens
Group and Organizational Facilitation


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The Parent Space Be sure to check out The Parent Space where I will periodically post some of my thoughts and practices around parenting and my work with children. My writings will be part of a future publication about parenting and working with children from a Process-oriented perspective.

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