Children and Hypnosis
by Del Hunter Morrill, M.S., C.C.H.
by Del Hunter Morrill, M.S., C.C.H.
What brings about or exacerbates children's problems?
Much that goes on in our world can cause problems for children, just as it does for adults. Rapid physical growth over short periods of time, and concerns about changes in their bodies can cause stress and loss of self-esteem. Various problems in school, with studies, teachers or peers, can be trouble a child. There are many fears that can plague children: fear of the potential danger in our schools today, fear of the dark, fear of going to sleep, fear of doctors, dentists and needles, etc. Many children experience the embarrassment of habits they find hard to break, like bed-wetting or thumb sucking. A new baby or other addition to the family can cause undue stress. Loss of their own bedroom space due to a new addition to the family, or having to move to a smaller place can make children unhappy. An underlying fear of kidnapping and other abuses may affect our children far more than we realize. It's difficult to keep such news away from a child's hearing, these days.
With children, the world revolves around them until experience helps expand that world. As they are the “center,” then everything is where they are. If there are problems in the family, they take on those as their own. If parents are having trouble in relating well, their children can become fearful and guilty, as if they were the cause or should have prevented it in some way. This is what creates “ADULT CHILDREN.” A recent client of mine was the oldest son of his family. He saw his mother beaten, nightly, and both he and his brother received the rage of a drunken father. Yet, he couldn't help his mother or protect his younger brother. This left him scarred with tremendous guilt and fear, which he carried into his marriage and his relationship with his own sons.
School and Learning Influences
In school, common problems for many children are the loss of a friend who moves away, being shamed or frightened by a teacher or principal, the death or serious illness of a school peer or teacher, boredom with school and having to make new friends. Unfamiliarity with schoolwork, or falling behind in a subject can cause excessive stress. The insistence upon “correct” performance in front of others in a classroom can be extremely hard on a shy child. Threats or bullying by other children, and the general fear and pressure of drugs and guns, in many schools, are serious concerns and add tremendous stress for certain children.
The Media - Our modern century provides an enormous spread of negative influences on our children. Television and movies regularly present violence, sex and innuendo as the norm. Shallowness and self-centeredness are projected by sit-coms on TV by unmarried 30 year olds who are totally wrapped up in themselves. Advertising and acquisition are other primary images, as parents go crazy trying to get the child whatever the child wants. Pre-teens understand that being very thin or buff are the models they must follow or they'll not be acceptable to their peers. Young girls, especially, begin worrying about their weight at any earlier and earlier age.
News events on TV - War and the resulting migration of homeless families, famine and other tragedies within countries, kidnappings, abuse and other mayhem against children, and the latest disease or other terrors are projected on the screen, nightly, inundating our children, just as it does adults. And children are just as impacted as their parents by this constant onslaught of negative messaging. What adults consider important in life - Millionaires seem barely out of diapers. A car at age 16 is a must. Slimness for women and powerful “pecs” for men are major images projected by television, movies and magazines. Fear of retirement, ill health and the desire for youthfulness remind us, “For God's sake, don't get old or your life will be over.” Millions are spent every year in keeping us beautiful forever, and in staving off eventual death. Children receive this information by words or inferences from the time they are born, unless they have parents who find ways to help them keep a balanced approach to life and living.
When children are brought to a therapist's office, they come with their parents. And those parents may reflect the other factors that contribute to a child's problem. Parents often lose sight of the impact of major events or stress in the family upon the children. Often, adults make the mistake of believing that children are resilient. They don't speak to them about difficult situations, yet will speak “around,” or in front of them, as if they weren't there or wouldn't understand. Many times they don't bother to ask the question of “why,” when a child is troubled. Often, parents perceive their children's problems as rather unimportant, in the light of their own difficulties.
Problems many children face, in family life, are dissatisfied parents who can never be pleased, being compared to a sibling, an older sibling leaving for school without them, a death in the family, divorce or other separation, loss of a parent or favorite grandparent, and moving away from friends or members of the family. A depressed, anxious or highly-strung parent, family members who are chronic worriers, and otherwise negative influences affect the outlook of children. High stress is created by an abusive sibling who teases or shames, arguments or violence between parents, threats of harm, an addictive parent or step-parent, physical, sexual or verbal abuse of the children, a parent or sibling who is physically ill much of the time. These must be considered when dealing with the child's presenting symptoms.
Influence of Peers
Although possibly more strongly felt once children reach pre-teens, even smaller children are affected by their friend's choices and experiences. Moving to a new school, having to make new friends, handling bullies, unfamiliarity with schoolwork, as well as falling behind in a subject or being “behind” the other kids, and other comparisons, are common problems for many children. Being teased for being the “wrong” height or weight, or for not fitting the status quo embarrasses some children. The struggle to belong and rejection by groups become especially hard on pre-teens and teenagers.
How Stress Can Affect Children
When children are experiencing unrelenting stress or are worried, whether or not they are conscious of it, there are warning signs for those who have the eyes to see. Schoolwork may begin to slide. A child may begin to lose things on a consistent basis, steal, become accident-prone, have headaches or stomachaches, bite their nails or pull hair or lashes. They may return to wetting the bed, after having been dry for some time. Health problems may start cropping up. Other people may notice a dramatic change in disposition. The child may begin to stop wanting to go to school, or begin to cause problems in the classroom. They may lie and have other avoidance patterns. They may turn to drugs or alcohol. They may begin to have trouble sleeping, experience frequent nightmares or sleep walk.
Why Children Might Come to a Hypnotherapist
Issues, for which hypnotic methods and tools are a helpful response, include doing homework, performing better in the classroom, getting to school and liking it, improving grades, friendlessness, thumb sucking, bedwetting, nightmares and fear of the dark, stealing, low self-esteem, dealing with divorce or death in a family, illness - their own or someone in the family, and a myriad of other problems.
One of the most frequent reasons children are brought to hypnotherapists is for learning improvement. When it comes to school life, there are many problems children can develop. This may be one of the largest areas of concerns for parents, and one for which good marketing can reap good results. Such arenas as reading, writing, memory, getting homework done, grades, peer pressure and friendships, classroom deportment, self-esteem, and even wanting to be in school are effectively and easily handled, for the most part, by one or two hypnosis sessions.
The Power of the Imagination
The imagination of children is very keen until parents, teachers and others interfere. In many schools, the style of teaching in the classroom can tend to rule out the playful and imaginative, once children pass the second or third grade. When adults consider daydreaming worthless, when they call attention to Its “cuteness” to others, and associate imagination with lying, or otherwise imply ridicule and non-belief, the child gradually lets it weaken.
The doorway between the conscious and the unconscious mind is the imagination. For children, it's relatively easy to reach at the deepest levels, in a much quicker time than required by a good many adults. Stories, adventures, visualization, imaginative games, role-playing, magic, puppets, and costumes work most effectively with children. Any tools that one's stimulate the imagination should be at the hypnotherapist's disposal.
What Hypnosis Can Do For Children
Hypnosis works well because there are less years of reinforcing imprints on one's mind. Children are more susceptible to hypnosis. They have the drive to discover and they hunger for new experiences. They're open to new learnings, willing to receive and respond to new ideas, as long as they are presented in an understandable way. Children are usually easily relaxed and focused. They have an ability to change and to be versatile, and, before the age of twelve, to accept most ideas uncritically. They aren't as dominated by rational questioning and concerns that adults have formed through their life experiences. Also, they don't have the fears and misconceptions about hypnosis that so many adults have. This makes it relatively easy to work with them.
Working with children is a wonderful specialty. The benefits of hypnosis with children are the same as for adults, as long as their problems are treated as seriously as adults. Hypnosis is a powerful tool in strengthening a child's confidence. It helps a child to feel empowered where, before, they have been “victim.” It releases willingness to use their natural gifts. It elicits talent and creativity. It provides a wonderful foundation in their education. With a good hypnotherapist, children can experience true success in their lives in all areas. They feel happier, and have a sense of real freedom.
Assuring Successful Sessions
It seems ridiculously basic, yet, it's important to remember that a child's problems are as important as an adult's. Children need to be treated with as much respect as we treat adults. They don't need to be “talked down to.” Children may not have as many years; yet, just as with adults, imprints are planted in their minds from the time they begin life by whatever they‘ve seen and learned from parents, relatives, teachers and peers. Whatever a child has experienced, it has been as strongly received as any complicated thing that's happened in an adult's life. The difference is that children are still bound to whatever their parents wish for them and for themselves.
An effective session deals with the parent's concerns for the child, while honoring the child's desires and needs. The therapist gathers information in order to determine how best to approach the child's problem. A sensitive hypnotherapist, or other guide of children, will have discerned possible questions before they are asked, in order to clarify how sessions will be conducted, and to clear up any misconceptions about hypnotic processes. Good rapport is developed with both parent and child. Convincers, or hypnotic tests, are used prior to and/or during a hypnotic session. The guide uses methods of induction and prescription appropriate to the child's age and problem. To keep rapport, the therapists meets back with the parent(s) with any recommendations, including possible “homework” or other support.
Building Rapport with the Parent
What makes working with the child unique is not so much their problems, or even the techniques or tools you are able to use, but having the parents as a contributing factor. From the time you first meet a child, you are dealing with that parent, as well. Establishing rapport with them is as important as establishing rapport with the child. In one way or another, a parent can support or ruin the work you do. They can be supportive or detrimental to the child. The child's problem may well be brought about by parents or, at the very least, acerbated by them. Keeping the parent feeling that they are part of the process, without revealing the confidence the child has given you, is important. Explaining some of this to the parent, at the beginning, and speaking to the parent after a session, goes a long way in keeping the communication open, and in justifying the parent's confidence in you.
Building Rapport with the Child
Although not required, other additions that help create a successful atmosphere and process may include such things as a game that can be played by two, talking to the child about their life and school, etc., or taking home some kind of little gift or reminder of the visit together. (I keep little boxes of various kinds filled with interesting items. The child, when introduced to the room, can go through them to decide on something to take home, while I have a brief conversation with the parent.) Some therapists find that letting a child touch things in the counseling room helps them to feel comfortable. A smaller child might like to choose a stuffed animal or a doll to hold while talking with you. Many therapists learn a simple magic trick, which serves the dual purpose of “breaking the ice” and showing the wonders awaiting them, in terms of solving their problem.
Use of Intakes with Parent and Child
It's helpful to create some kind of intake to use for the initial visit with child and parent. Doing an intake can help a great deal in building rapport, as well as gathering important information that will assure successful visits. An intake with the parent should include questions that elicit basic data on who is in the family, the child's medical history, clarification of the child's problem and some background as to what led to it. The intake with the child assists the expression of what their experience is of the problem, and how it matches the concerns of the parents. It should elicit some of their favorite things that might help you build a story, should you decide to create one during the hypnotic process.
Use of Imaginative Scripts
A child doesn't always have to have traditional inductions used in order to be hypnotized. Besides the traditional positive suggestion approach, there is a wide variety of possibilities for effectively inducting a child and providing a proper “prescription” for healing or changing habits. Most children are in a sort of trance-like state already, or, at the very least, fuzzy about the line between the real and unreal. This makes it possible to create a trancelike state in some very simple ways. Some of these can include telling stories or creating a metaphors, using the child's favorite television program to spin a tale, creating an adventure a child can go on that leads to a solution to their problem, looking at a gyroscope or into a kaleidoscope, focusing on a dot on the guide's finger, coloring an optical illusion while the therapist talks to them, making use of a pendulum, hypnotizing a puppet in order to show a child how very simple it is, going on an amazing trip such as a rocket to Mars, or locating a magical kingdom where wonderful things can happen that change your life.
The Star/Tree/Garden script in GREAT ESCAPES, Volume I, is a good example of placing the child in a visual and safe setting. Blowing up balloons, receiving gifts from the sea, burning a ship of problems, changing labels and others provide settings that allow the child to be active in their changing. Another value of such methods is that they can be used for just about any age group. Being animals, meeting a magician who helps you change, greeting people on the other side of the rainbow, or going into a tough area with your favorite hero are fun for a child, and make use of their wonderful imagination.
Locating the Source
When a child is brought in for any serious issue, it should be assumed that there may be some deeper problem, for which this is just a symptom. In such cases, the problem-solution finding process script, in this volume, can be very helpful, especially for younger ages, or less articulate children. Regression is possible in a later session, if such a script or process hasn't been fully affective.
Value of Homework
Homework can be a helpful addition in supporting the work done in the office. It can serve as reinforcement for the child, and gives the parent some way to participate. Homework for the child also can serve as a sort of post-hypnotic suggestion, thus strengthening the session. Homework for a parent could range from creating a log or chart for a child's improvement, to using particular affirmations with the child, before bedtime.
A child, just like an adult, has to want to change and be willing to work with the therapist. A hypnotherapist who works with children must, obviously, like them. They need to be able to establish trust with both parents and child. They must treat a child's case with as much confidentiality as an adult's. Some therapists, confident with adults, feel far more nervous working with children. They are afraid that they won't be able to transfer what they know to various age groups. They may not feel that they have enough training for it. Perhaps they make it more complicated than it need be. With adequate education and other training in dealing with children, they will find they are most capable with all ages.
Just remember that children will come to you because you can help them. They are open to your help, and, therefore, they'll be receptive to your suggestions for them, whether couched in traditional suggestions, in stories or play.
The best way to conquer the fear, at least enough to know whether this is a field that would appeal to you, is to DO IT! Practice on children as much as is possible. Encourage your friends to let you work with their children. A 15-minute session may be all that you need, at times, to do just the right thing for a child. It is their belief at work, just as it is with adults.
Del Hunter Morrill, M.S., Counseling Hypnotherapist Author of the GREAT ESCAPES script books and the NEW BEGINNINGS recording series
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