Getting the Inside Out - When Words Don’t Come, Move

Author // Caron Goode, Ph.D.

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When Words Don’t Come, Move

Twelve-year-old Alaina stormed into the house after several hours at the beach with her friends. Their ages ranged from 11 to 15. It wasn’t unusual for Alaina and her friends to hang out together in the small beach town on the coast of Maine. However, it was highly odd for Alaina to slam the door and sigh loudly in disgust. When I looked at her, I saw a red face ready to explode in anger. Her chesty, fast-paced breathing indicated anxiety.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. She couldn’t speak. She held her hands up as if to say, “Give me a few moments,” while she paced around the kitchen. Wanting to ease her pain, I blurted out, “Move. Just keep moving.”

What she showed me in the next few moments with her actions could never have been so beautifully demonstrated with words. At first she walked briskly in circles, alternating her hands between resting on her hips and throwing them up in the air with a disgusted look on her face.

Her facial expressions were marvelous. She walked up to me with hazy eyes and protruded lips and took a long, slow drag from an imaginary thing in her lips. She slurped the air in and held her breath while smiling dreamily. “You want one?” she gesticulated. Then she turned to answer herself with adamant hand waving in front of her face. “NO!” That was clear! So far I’d determined that the older kids were smoking marijuana and were offering it to her. She got angry and told them no. But the worst was yet to come for this 12-year-old.

She imitated beautifully the charades of being pushed around, laughed at and made to feel as though she were a very uncool kid. She ended the movement by flopping on the kitchen chair and crying. I didn’t say anything. I just put my arms around her and silently thanked her for being so “uncool.”

Follow the Inner Rhythm

Researchers continue to find that children are affected by music in unexpected ways. Preschoolers given piano and voice lessons, for example, were found in one study to improve dramatically in their ability to put together picture puzzles of animals.

When you coach your children, rely on your instincts and experiences in terms of what they need at a given time. Children need quiet music, just as adults do, when they need to relax, sleep or be mentally alert. But if a child needs energizing to engage in tasks or games, lively, upbeat music, such as syncopated Latin dances, will provide the necessary stimulation for movement.

You can coach your child through moments of intense feelings with some musical processes that will make you both feel better. Anger, for example, can be pounded out on a drum; sadness can sing on resonator bells. Talking after the musical expression is much easier and your child will be better able to think of solutions for his situations and answers to his problems.

When you see the warning signs of anger or sibling conflict stirring, reach for the drums! Hand one to your child, along with the drumstick or soft mallet designed for playing it, and pick one up for yourself. Ask your child to use the drum to tell you how she feels. As she strikes the drum, support her playing with a simple basic beat, like 1-2-3-4. Reflect her mood by singing, “You sound very angry. Is that true?” If you get an affirmative response, ask for more: “Let me hear on the drum just how angry you are.” Keep playing your beat as your child lets her emotions out. Depending on your child’s age, drumming, rather than words, may be all you hear for awhile.

You don’t have to do this exercise with a drum. Other musical instruments that are easy and fun to play and to express with include maracas, clavas, jingle bells, spoon bells, resonator bells, sticks, woodblocks, castanets, whistles, kazoos or small horns. If you play an instrument such as piano or guitar, you may want to accompany your child on it while she plays the drum, or you might play a recording that features accented rhythm. West African and Native American drumming tapes are ideally suited for this purpose and are widely available.

Encouraging your child to express with musical instruments teaches him an appropriate way to show intense feelings instead of repressing them. Children who grow up with the freedom to express in a creative and enjoyable way become emotionally balanced adults and willing listeners to others’ feelings.

Music, movement, drawing and breathing are all ways to help relieve your child’s stress by directing their focus inside. As you join in the activities as teacher and coach, you’ll find your own stress will ease, as well. Learning inner focus enables your child to have more productive relationships with their friends, family and life situations. Since a successful life is so dependent upon keeping our minds and emotions clear, developing these skills in our children will strengthen their foundation for life success. All we have to do is be aware, and care. This will lead us to the right action.

About the Author:

Dr. Goode is a licensed counselor, author, speaker and parent coach. She is the founder, and serves on the faculty, of the Academy for Coaching Parents International. She has recently co-authored the award-winning books, Raising Intuitive Children and Nurture Your Child’s Gift.

Pathways Issue 26 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #26.

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