SOMATIC THERAPY WITH CHILDREN: WHAT TO EXPECT
From the moment our children are born, we want nothing more than to keep them safe. But no matter how hard we try, we parents cannot control every little thing. Sometimes children get injured or experience loss. In these times, it’s not uncommon for children to witness frightening events. There are several outside factors which could potentially harm our children emotionally and physically.
SOMETHING ISN’T RIGHT
We may not always know from where our children’s symptoms arise, but we usually know when something isn’t quite right. I always say that mothers have a sense about these things. Fathers sometimes do as well, but it’s often the mother who feels it in her body that something isn’t right. And to that, I say, pay attention! There is something that can be done. There is a way to reconnect with them, and a way to help them heal naturally.
If you’re noticing behaviors in your child that are new, that could be a sign something isn’t right. Or if they’re having tantrums that are out of control, screaming, whining, or complaining of things that wouldn’t bother most other kids, your child may benefit from somatic therapy.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
Most children I work with have undergone some kind of trauma or accumulated stress. Many times the trauma is medical-related. By their nature, children are helpless to protect themselves, so if they’re experiencing a medical event, it’s going to be traumatic. If the child was an infant when the medical interventions happened, their protective reflexes weren’t operating fully, so things may have happened without their permission when they didn’t expect it was going to happen.
Some other trauma or stress a child could experience:
Violent acts or personal abuse
Loss, including death, divorce, or separation from a loved one
IN THE BEGINNING
The first thing I usually do when I meet with a family for the very first time is to make sure the parents understand how much work is involved. This isn’t going to happen overnight. Often the child’s behavior will get worse before it gets better, so parents need to understand that going in. I look for families that can hang on and stay with the work. There will be significant changes if they can commit to hanging in there.
Initially, when we meet, it’ll be weekly. It’s vital for me to establish trust with the child. Your son or daughter should feel safe and free to express his or her thoughts and feelings.
Every fourth session or so, I’ll do a solo parent session. Parenting a child with differences is challenging. Sometimes I ask the mother to come in alone for support, so she doesn’t always have to hold it together. It’s important for Mom to get some nurturing for herself and to get some clarity.
In our sessions, we will work on repairing your child’s attachment to you. For that reason, I don’t generally work on-one-one with children unless requested to do so. It is my goal to help children co-regulate. I believe it’s essential to have a safe adult in the room so the child can be helped to regulate off them before they learn to self-regulate.
Children often have a way of coming up with the most amazing treatment strategies for themselves. My job is to recognize it because I can place it in the developmental spectrum.
For instance, I met with a young girl who was about to be adopted. When I was talking to the mother, the girl disappeared out of the room. I saw that she had laid herself on the floor about one hundred yards out and was inching her way into the room on her belly. She came all the way into the room, across the rug, to her mother on the couch, and into her mother’s lap. She conducted her own birth sequence of adoption into her mother’s lap on her own!
I have many stories of children doing things like that all on their own. I love when I can jump on that and do it enthusiastically with them. Not all children are that way, though, and sometimes I will need to instruct development movement or bonding exercises directly. We’ll also do eye contact games from time to time.
There is a lot of magic in this work. We all have an inner healer and a vast wellness inside of us. I believe it is my honor, my privilege, and my role to help others find this. My importance comes from being able to see the whole child in their full being. When I can do that, it opens a space for the child to find what’s right for them. And if not, I’ll find it.
Learn more about Child-Focused Family Therapy. It’s a fun therapy, but it goes deep. This type of treatment strengthens bonding and connection, enhances emotional intelligence, and improves developmental outcomes.