No amount of training can prepare you for working with children. For a start they're almost constantly moving. Toddlers definitely won't lie down for you, babies will immediately entertain themselves by pulling your hair because they find your facial expression hilarious and if you're not crawling under the treatment table on all fours within 5 minutes of meeting a 2 year old then they probably don't feel comfortable around you. Children are supposed to move and express themselves fully within a space. They're supposed to make us wonder! They invite us to surrender to the present moment with them, to be side by side as they spontaneously explore their environment and it's up to us to hold their raw emotional expression and sometimes to allow them the pure chaos of unashamed youth.
Connecting with children through craniosacral work is an incredibly rich but also somewhat unpredictable experience. Expect lots of dribble and plenty of piercing screams. But otherwise have no expectation. Don't worry too much about the tears but do get ready to sing your heart out with them. Music and cranio for kids is a wonderful combo!
Expect lots of dribble and plenty of piercing screams. Don't worry about the tears and get ready to sing your heart out with them.
I've found three main things really interesting when I've worked with children. Firstly they tell you everything about who they are, what they need and what's bothering them - the only thing is they don't tell you in words - they tell you through their hearts, their bodies and how they move them. They tell you through their gaze, their facial expression, their giggles and the way they place themselves in the room.
Secondly, and importantly, they also tell you about where they've come from - their home environment, their family dynamic, they tell you about the parental to and fros, about how love is expressed in the house. They haven't yet learnt to filter themselves. They will bring you live scenarios of their life and hand it to you on a plate, replaying and acting it out. All you need to do is observe, beneath the surface and be willing to see. As Rumi said, beneath the words is the voice of the heart.
Finally, children show you their soul. They don't hide behind their personality or identity in the way adults do, they don't intellectualise their pain and they don't shy away in self doubt about their purpose. Their soul is laid bare, unconditioned, ready to be met. As a therapist, it's my job to meet the child, their physical body, their emotional body, their field and family and their soul in order to really meet them.
Children show you their soul. They don't hide behind their personality or identity in the way adults do, they don't intellectualise their pain and they don't shy away in self doubt about their purpose.
So here are the three main reflections I've had when i've been working with children. I don't find it particularly easy-going work, I always have to create more space than I think I will need, which means more time. The spontaneous nappy change in the room often catches me off guard. Their constant movement sometimes makes me feel a little dizzy and exasperated. But they are masters when it comes to authentic communication. They are my teachers. And I honour them all for what they have taught me and continue to teach me.
1. Their often non stop movement (and talking) reveals vital information about their health, their identity, their family, their traumas and their needs.
Don't expect a child to come in and lie down on your treatment table under a cozy blanket. It just won't happen. They are more likely to be found swinging off a chair or throwing your crystals around the room. Or in my case, also chasing my cat around the house whilst hollering 'Rambo!' at the top of their voice. (Sometimes I join in, just for fun). The way children move their bodies, use their voices, seek out spaces is all relevant to their process. I observe their movement in the room and incorporate it as part of the treatment. Not because it's a technique but because there is no other choice - that is their vocabulary! I observe how much space they choose to take up and how close to their parent they stay. I notice how they ask for things, and how they respond to me when i'm trying to get to know them. I feel their hearts and their breathing and listen to the quality of their yells.
Every single movement, sound and expression for a child is an unfiltered glimpse into their heart. The way they express themselves in the room is reflective of how they express themselves in the world.
An example is of a 2 year old boy named Jack whose mother brought him in to see me because of his terrible temper tantrums. He boldly stepped into my treatment room, introduced himself to me and then proceeded to waddle around the room slowly gazing up at the art on the walls, asking over and over again in front of each piece 'What's this, and what's this, and what's this?' I felt like I was in the company of a middle aged art collector! I started to understand how he engages with his world is with a deeper curiosity, a desire to know and be familiar with what is around him and that maybe inside somewhere his own creativity was being spoken to. His mother, a maths teacher, confirmed that he is indeed already very creative, he loves to draw and sing but has a terrible temper tantrum when it's time to put the toys away. He cannot understand why he isn't allowed to continue with his drawings. In every aspect of a toddlers movement and expression, they are telling me their underlying need and showing me their unique personality and gift. My job, is to meet them there, in the unspoken, as well as the spoken, so that their expression can resonate safely in the room and within their little bodies. Therapy with a toddler is about accepting their unique expression so that they are able to accept it within them.
2. Engaging with a child means meeting them at a soul level, not just a physical and emotional level
Toddlers might look young but they're often much older inside - at a soul level I mean. If a child is only ever acknowledged at a physical level rather than the deeper soul level, a mismatch develops between what they are and what the world engages with them as.
Children with an old soul demand to be seen. As therapists if we we only look at a child's life experience for the two years they have been alive we often don't see what is relevant to issues they are experiencing in their bodies. Sometimes there is no genetic effect, in utero stress or birth trauma to account for a child's illness. There's no virus and there's been no injury. There's no family trauma or empathic break. The physical body is fine and doctors haven't found anything wrong. Then what? Sometimes there is a deeper underlying soul expression trying to come through and it's important to witness and honour it.
Therapy is a continuous spectrum of moments of deep awareness and meaningful contact interspersed by space - it could be seen as a dance between connecting and disconnecting and as a therapist our role is to facilitate connection and observe what drives the disconnection. Connecting with a child means connecting with their entirety, not just their 2/3 year old body and expression. Deeper within them, their soul is holding a message. Sometimes for them, often for the parents.
One example is a young girl whose mother felt like she might be autistic. She was worried because she was disrupting the class and was getting bored easily, although she didn't want to go down the route of a diagnosis for her child. When I engaged with the girls system, a middle aged woman emerged, strongly versed in poetry and fascinated by literature and art. I was quite astounded to hear a young girl expressing such maturity. Within her, she was much older than the other girls in her class and therefore she was frequently bored with the level of intellectual stimulation and frustrated when she wasn't getting her own need for connection met. Teachers saw her as a little girl who bossed the other girls around and was disruptive. But deep within, she was actually gifted and much older than her little body portrayed. I asked her mother to tell me a little about what life has been like with her daughter and she began to describe the birth. Suddenly, her daughter interrupted her and announced that the birth process was challenging for her mother because of her mother's own unresolved emotional issues. Coming from a 5 year old, this sounds peculiar to say the least. Coming from within, where the little girl's soul age was actually more like 45 years old, this was a more understandable expression. When the parent was able to see that her child was actually gifted rather than just neurologically different, and appreciate that actually she had been given a daughter that was almost like her peer, she was able to rebuild a deeper connection and understanding with her child.
3. Children are unfiltered reflections of their parents and what is unresolved within them
This is a tough one because sometimes (quite often) parents bring their children in for treatment and actually what emerges is that one or both of the parents are the ones that need treatment. The child is merely mirroring the parent's unconscious. In these cases, where the child is actually reflecting what is unresolved in the parent's body, a tactful and sensitive conversation needs to take place to help the family get a resolution at the root cause. It can be easier for the parent to project onto the child rather than look at their own old, usually very old and well buried, multi layered fears and anxieties. But really, it's a co creation.
One example is a little boy called Michael who was three years old and was brought to see me because he wasn't sleeping at night. His parents had tried everything to soothe him to sleep and yet he would spend the whole night lying wide awake in silence. During the day he would be tired, upset and grumpy but still unable to sleep. It had been going on for almost a year and his parents were getting worried. Health checks showed there was nothing of physical concern and his doctor was baffled.
It became clear as I engaged with his system that he was actually lying in bed awake out of a need to protect his mum. He could feel his mother's fear at night. When I spoke to his mother about this observation she confirmed that nights were difficult for her because her husband was a firefighter which meant he was often working nights. She would lie in bed in constant worry. Furthermore, when she was 13 her house was burgled and she remembers being terrified for many months. Her fear was resonating with her little boy despite the fact they slept in separate rooms. He was a mirror for his mother's unresolved worry. Working with the night terror in her system and the fear in her body lead to an instant resolution. After 3 sessions she reported that she was sleeping better and Michael was getting at least 8 hours a night of deep sleep and was a much little boy.
Working with children is sometimes bewildering but always rewarding. Their little bodies contain so much information and their systems are incredibly responsive to treatment especially biodynamically orientated approach where there is minimal physical pressure and alot of space. On a physical level many of their cranial bones haven't fully fused yet so there is plenty of scope for the body to reorganise itself. On a mental level there hasn't been as much layered conditioning and emotionally children really do wear their hearts wide open for us.
Letting vulnerable children take the lead in sessions is particularly important in developing an unspoken trust, especially for children who have had to endure extensive medical interventions because of prolonged illness or birth complications. I let them move me around, I tell them they're in charge and I observe how they respond until they're comfortable to relax deeper into my presence.
Working with children is actually more of a being. It requires me to be even more authentically myself than with an adult because with a child, there is so much that happens in every moment.
If anyone reading this has a child who needs support physically or emotionally or who wants to explore their family healing potential feel free to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact form on my website to send me a message. All sessions are confidential and names and details referred to in cases above have all been changed to maintain sacred space.