While it’s easy to think of childhood as an easy time of life that’s all playgrounds and toys and having grownups cook you dinner, it can also be fraught with difficulty. There is a lot of variety to those challenges: some kids have been bullied, some have trouble keeping up at school, some have social anxiety, some have to learn to live with chronic illnesses like diabetes or issues such as ADHD, and some may struggle adjusting to parents’ divorcing or remarrying.
When a young person walks into my office with their head hanging down, their shoulders slumped forward, shuffling their feet, I know that they are not bolstered by a strong sense of self. That young person sits on my couch or windowsill – creating as much distance from me as they can. I usually compliment them on how creative they are to be able to get so far away in such a small room. Sometimes, in response, the young person will look up at me. I call that Magic Trick #1. I bring out Magic Trick #2 when I comment that it kind of looks like they don’t want to be there. Often, we chuckle about that together. Magic Trick #3 – I explain that so many kids who come to see me don’t want to be there – their parents made them come. We both give a slight nod in agreement. I quickly follow by explaining that almost all of these kids are very nice and don’t want to hurt my feelings, but that most kids come in and say, “No offense, Robbie, but I hate therapists.”
By this time we are usually smiling, and lo and behold, the young person who had come in scared and who had sworn not to say a single word, is smiling and laughing and talking. I have just said the magic words to give them permission to be themselves. We laugh together – a magical connection has begun.
My objective is to make the child feel comfortable. Over many hours they relax enough to show me who they really are – sometimes we even sit down on the floor right next to each other. Slowly defenses start to crumble. They start to feel like they have entered a safe space with a safe person.
In addition to talking with kids, we play together. Young children especially express themselves through play and art as well as with words, and accordingly, my office is filled with games, stuffed animals, a dollhouse, and drawing supplies.
Please call or email me so that we can talk before we meet.