The first time I had a therapy session with a five-year-old child, he stared at me and declared “I don’t wanna be in counseling!”
Well, there was no sense in blaming him. He was a little kid in yet another situation with an adult. From what I learned in the first session with his parent, he had already met plenty of conflicts with an adult’s idea of how things should go. Don’t stand on your seat in the classroom. Don’t throw eggs on the kitchen floor (even though it sounds really cool). Don’t try to pin a race number on the dog. Be quiet when other people are talking. Don’t run in the house.
So here I am, another adult. And, adults make rules. We do this for good reason. Most of the reasons are about creating and trying to keep up a structure. Even though kids will say “Stupid rules”, most of them are likely to feel secure when knowing what to expect. In my experience in working with kids, I have come upon a tricky element here that stumps adults. Kids are kids!
Kids are not adults. Their natural perspective of this world is that while inside the structure provided, they are free to experiment with the senses. There are sounds, sights, tactile sensations, smells and tastes to master. There is much more energy available to their hands and feet, due the the fact that energy isn’t being used to repair internal organs, such as in the case with us adults. In the average case of development, young children are further away from an expiration date.
In the first one-on-one session, I was contending with a huge gap between my thinking as an adult and that of the child’s. What helped me connect with him was a natural inclination towards achieving customer satisfaction. This kid didn’t know what it took to be a professional counselor, and I wasn’t going to try to make him understand. Yes, I had much more education than he did. But, how was he supposed to know whether it mattered or not? He didn’t know what counseling was about to begin with. All he saw was another adult who was going to tell him what to do and what he couldn’t do.
This is where I began to be schooled in art of deliberate silliness. It wasn’t too much of a stretch for me, being the father of a six-year-old. Still, I had to up my game. This youngster was not a comfortable member of my family and he had way different issues to process. The main thing to help him understand was that I was the guy who could help him get yelled at less and make more friends. However, he wasn’t going to buy my sales pitch right off the bat.
Through silliness and more silliness, not only did we build a rapport but he also started to tell me about his challenges. And then, I was able to guide him in token-earning sessions, towards building on positive behaviors. I would delay our fun stuff until he performed a small number of verbal and non-verbal social actions. We got the family involved and built a structure for daily behavior. The child and his parent began to work with each other in a way which was clear to both of them. Kids like clarity, not head games.
The most important thing I took from this and kept in mind for the rest of my career, was to make sure the counseling customer was able to experience good results.
David Peace, Author of Jungle Pack: Therapy Workbook and Journal