Directing a Child’s Attention
Many people habitually tell a child, “Don’t do that or you’ll get sick,” “My goodness, you’re certainly getting a bad cold,” “You’ll get sick if you keep on with that,” “I just know Johnny’s going to get measles if he goes to school,” and countless other such pessimistic suggestions. They also use thousands of “Don’ts,” “Can’ts,” and “Control yourself” phrases. Parents may watch themselves for these phrases, and avoid their use as much as possible. With a little imagination and practice, it is not difficult to find ways of keeping children safe without using constant verbal restraints. As much as possible, suggestions made to a child should be positive. Graphically illustrating what happens to a glass bottle when it drops will get the idea across better than a thousand screams of “Get away from that!” or “Put that down!”
Smooth, gentle motions and a quiet voice will go far toward averting
If a child’s attention must be obtained quickly because of a potentially dangerous situation developing too far away to enable the guardian to reach the child in a hurry, calling his name loud enough to be heard will do the trick harmlessly. It is much better than screamed injunctions to “Stop!” “Stay there!” “Don’t do that!” and so on. It is not nearly so likely to restimulate him.
Asking the child to remember may be used in hundreds of situations that arise from day to day: whenever the child is fretful, unhappy and crying over something; when he is feeling slightly sick; when he is obviously restimulated by something; when he has overheard a dramatization (a replay in the present of something that happened in the past) or someone has punished him severely or uncorked a dramatization directed toward him; when he feels rejected—in fact, every time a child is unhappy or nervous for any reason or when you know that he has had a highly restimulative experience.
The principle here is to get at the specific phrases and situations causing the restimulations. Of course this technique can be used only after the child has learned to talk enough to give a coherent account of what he is thinking and feeling.
If the child is feeling upset (not seriously ill) you may begin by asking him when he felt this way before. Usually a child will remember. As you ask further questions about what was happening, what he was doing at the time, who was talking, what was said, how he felt, he will describe the scene graphically. When he does so, simply have him go through it again a few times. When you come to the end say, “Tell me about it again. Where were you when Daddy was talking?” “Tell it again.” Or, simply, “Let’s see now, you were sitting on the couch when Daddy says—what does he say?” Any simple phrase which will return the child to the beginning of the scene may be used.
There is no need to make this action complex. Children understand “Tell it again.” They love to hear stories over and over again, themselves, and they love to tell their stories to an interested audience. But don’t be overly sympathetic. Show affection and interest, yes. But don’t croon or moan, “Poor baby, poor little thing!” or similar phrases. To do so may tend to prompt the child to consider the injury or upset valuable in that it got him special attention and sympathy.
The more you can enter a child’s reality, the better you will be able to help him. Imitate his voice tones, his “Yeah!” “You did!” “And then what?”—adapt yourself to his graphic mimicry, widened eyes, breathless interest or whatever his mood and tone may be—but not to the extent of parroting, of course. If you cannot do it well, then just be simple, natural and interested.
Often, when he is restimulated, a child will use one or two phrases over and over again. In that case you can start with, “Who says that?” or “Who’s saying that to you?” or “When did you hear that?”
Sometimes he will insist, “I say it, ‘Shut up, you old fool!’” or whatever the phrase is. Then ask, “Who else says it?” or “See if you can remember when you heard somebody else say it,” and he will usually start telling you about an incident.
One woman, working with her daughter, was astounded when the child said, “You said it, Mummy, a long time ago.” “Where were you when I said it?” “Oh, I was only a little thing—in your tummy.” This probably won’t happen often. But as the child gets the idea, it may happen sooner or later. Whatever the incident, just go on with questioning to build up the incident. “What were you doing? Where were you? Where was I? What was Daddy saying? What did it look like? What did you feel like?” and so on. Have the child recall the incident a few times until he laughs. This will release him from the restimulation.
Use of Dolls or Stuffed Animals
If the father knows that the child has overheard a dramatization or has been severely punished or scolded, he may handle this a few hours after the event by asking about it. “Do you remember when I shouted at Mother last night?” If the child is not used to expressing his anger to his parents, or if he has been severely repressed in the past, it may take some coaxing to get him to tell about it. While doing so, try to assure him by your manner that it is perfectly all right for him to talk about it. If he simply cannot, you might try to get him to play it out. If the child plays with dolls or toy animals you may, in play with him, get him to make the dolls or toys act out the dramatization.
“This is the mama doll. And this is the papa doll. What does the mama doll say when she is mad?” Very often this will take the child right into the scene, and if you let him really open up and describe the scene without condemnation, listening in a sympathetic, interested way, and encouraging him with a well-placed, “Yes...and then what?” he will soon drop the pretense and begin to tell you directly what he overheard. Even if he does not do this and, as children often do, he runs over the scene a couple of times with his dolls or toys, it will lessen in intensity to a large extent.
Instead of dolls or toys, you may have the child draw pictures. “Draw me a picture of a woman and a man.... What are they doing? Draw me a picture of a woman crying,” and so on. The emphasis should always be on the adult who was dramatizing, and not on the child who was bad, if that happened. Drawing pictures, playing house with a child: “And then you say...?” “And then I say...?” or simply getting the child to make up a story about it will help.
With children who have not been inhibited in their expressions of anger against parents, these subterfuges (deceptions) are not usually necessary. They will tell freely and dramatize scenes they overheard or scoldings they got, if you act as an interested audience and encourage them to build up the scene. If you watch children playing, you will often see them doing exactly that, mimicking their parents and other adults in their dramatizations.
Sometimes just asking a child, “What happened to make you feel bad?” or “What did I say to make you feel that way?” will bring out and alleviate the restimulative elements in the present situation.
Everyone is familiar with the violent threats children can think up when they are frustrated: “I’ll tear him to pieces and throw him in the river; I’ll make them all go in a closet and lock it up and throw away the key and then they’ll be sorry,” and so on. If you encourage them by “Yes? And then what will you do?” or “Gee, that would be something!” they will keep on for a while and then they often will suddenly pop right out of the upset and go on with what they were doing.
If a child is angry, let him be angry, even if you are the victim. Let him act out his anger, and usually it will disappear quickly. But if you try to suppress it, it will grow worse and last longer. Letting a child react to a frustrating situation without further suppression seems to release the energy of the frustration and will bring him out of it more quickly than almost anything else.
If a child is in fear, let him tell you about it, giving him all the encouragement you can. This is particularly effective in nightmares. Wake the child, hold him quietly until his crying calms a little, and ask him about the nightmare, taking him through it several times until he is no longer frightened. Then ask him about a pleasant memory, and have him tell you that before leaving him. If he doesn’t want to sleep alone after that, do not make him face his fear. Stay with him and encourage him to talk about it until he is no longer afraid, even if this takes some time. In asking about fears, you can use the phrase “the same as.” If the child is afraid of the dark, ask him, “What is the same as dark?” If he is afraid of animals, a similar question will cause him to analyze his fear. Perhaps you will not always be successful on the first questioning, but if you continue patiently you’ll soon get an answer that will tell you an incident he has his attention on and you can help the child handle this by talking about what occurred.
If the child is in grief, a good way to begin is, “What are you crying about?” After a child has told what he is crying about a few times, each time being helped by questioning about the incident, and when his crying has abated (become less), you may ask, “What else are you crying about?”
Actually, just letting him cry until he gets out of it will often be enough. This is especially true if you are in close contact with him and he knows he can count on you for support and assistance.
Don’t try to stop a child from crying by simply telling him not to cry. Either handle the incident that caused the crying by asking what happened and getting him to tell about it until he is laughing, or let him cry it out while you caress or hold him. No words in this case; just affection.
If the child is simply fretful and “unmanageable,” you can often get him out of it by diverting his attention, by introducing a new and fascinating story or picture book or a toy or, in the case of a very young child, something which glitters. This is an old technique, but it is valid. If the child is fretful, the chances are that he is in boredom, which means that the particular activity he was interested in has been suppressed somehow. He is looking for something new but is unable to find it. If you can give him something to interest him, he will become more cheerful quickly. Do not, however, make frantic efforts to attract his attention, plaguing him with jerky movements and such attention diverters as, “See, baby, see the pretty watch!” and if that fails to have an instantaneous effect, jumping to some other object. This will often only confuse him. Move smoothly and quietly, keep your voice soft and calm, and direct his attention to one new thing. That should be enough.
If none of these work, you can sometimes free him from the dramatization by bringing him up to present time with intense physical stimulation, like playful wrestling or some other vigorous exercise.
If you can get the child’s attention long enough, you can ask him to tell you about some nice thing that happened. He may do it reluctantly at first, but as you encourage it he will often go right into the pleasurable memory, and pretty soon he will be cheerful again.
Making a new game of remembering provides a constructive and pleasant way to keep a child occupied during long trips, periods of waiting, periods of convalescence, and so on.
Children naturally have a good ability to recall. They love to talk about past moments of pleasure. A good deal of a child’s conversation is filled with the wonderful things he has done or hopes to do, and he often talks spontaneously about times where he has been frightened or unhappy.
Teach a child to relate all pleasure moments by asking him what happened when he went to the zoo or went swimming. When he begins to tell you, switch him subtly to present tense, as suggested, if he fails to do so himself. Tell him to feel the water, feel himself moving, see what is going on, hear what people are saying and the sounds around him. This will help build his recall of the various things he perceived. But don’t insist on a full account of the perceptions if the child is swiftly and surely recalling the incident, telling about it fluently. It doesn’t take much to get a child to do this.
You can introduce the game by saying, “Let’s play remembering,” or “Tell me about when you went to...” or “Let’s pretend we’re going to the zoo again,” or any other such casual phrase. Enter into the tale as much as you can, adopting the child’s tone and manner if you can do it easily, and always being interested and eagerly awaiting the next detail.
Whenever a child comes to tell you about an accident he had or something that frightened him or made him unhappy, listen to it and have him go over it several times. As children learn how to “play remembering” and learn what it does for them, they will begin to ask for this when they want or need it.
There are many more assists that can be used to help children. Contact your nearest Scientology organization to find a book containing these.
Again, the main points in dealing with a child’s upsets or injuries are:
1. Give assists for minor injuries, if necessary, or let the child cry it out if that seems to be enough.
2. Get the child to remember the last time it happened or get him to tell you in full what happened that made him unhappy.
3. Teach a child to remember by having him tell you past pleasure moments.
4. Use recall of pleasure moments or other techniques for bringing the child out of moments of upset up to present time.
Such care will keep the child healthier and happier.
the reactivation of a memory of a past unpleasant experience due to similar circumstances in the present approximating circumstances of the past.