Written By Lara Gillease
I was doing a series of Anat Baniel Method (ABM) NeuroMovement Lessons for 5 consecutive days with Danny, a 4-year old boy with cerebral palsy, whose family lives 4 hours away. Danny’s grandmother lives locally so they were staying with her. After I finished one of the lessons, Danny was playing with some toys while I spoke to the parents.
When it was time to go the father asked him, “Do you want to go to Grandma’s?”
I could see Danny was completely engaged in playing with one of the toys. Danny then clearly indicated, “No.”
As the father started to pick him up to take him to the car and ask him the same question, Danny started to cry while moving away from his father.
I asked the father to pause what he was doing. As soon as he did, Danny returned happily to playing with the toy.
I explained, “You asked Danny a question of whether he wanted to go to Grandma’s or not. He heard your question literally rather than what you were implying. You gave him a choice. He expressed his choice. Making him go to Grandma’s now is in effect taking away his choice. It doesn’t make sense to him and is what he was starting to cry about.”
As an ABM NeuroMovement teacher for over 15 years, I regularly talk to parents and other caregivers regarding —
Two ways to communicate clearly with a child:
1) Tell the child what is going to happen next
When something specific is going to happen to the child, tell him about it before you do anything. This is called a ‘This is how it’s going to go’ statement.
I told Danny’s parents, “Instead of asking him a question, you could say, ‘This is how it’s going to go – I am going to pick you up and bring you the car to go to Grandma’s.'”
“Additionally it is important to you tell him BEFORE you do it, then give him time to take in that information. Then follow through with picking him up.”
A concerned look crossed the father’s face as he said, “That makes sense. But what if I forget and ask him a question when I need him to do something?”
“That’s okay. It happens. Especially at first since you are in the habit of using a question when you really mean a statement. What you can do is let Danny’s response be what happens next for two or three minutes. But after those couple of minutes have passed, you can then use the ‘This is how it’s going to go’ statement and follow through with it.”
2) Ask a question when giving the child a choice
Asking a question is for when there truly is a choice.
There are two basic types of questions:
a) A question in which the response would be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’
‘Do you want _________________? Do you want to go outside, Mommy to pick you up? Water? To Eat’, etc.
b) A question when giving an option between this or that
‘Do you want ________ or __________? ‘Do you want a book or a toy?’
If the child has a limited understanding of the words you are saying, then you can simplify it by showing him the items. For a book and a toy, you can hold them in each hand while saying only one word- ‘Book?’ and slightly moving the book. Then hold it still while saying ‘Toy?’ and moving it.
Even if the child is not yet able to say the words book or toy, he may still be able to indicate which one he wants.
Some children reach for the one they want. Others may indicate by smiling. While yet others may just look at the one they want. It can depend on the child’s development and skill level. Even an infant tends to look at the one he wants.
I told Danny’s parents, “I am going to use both a ‘This is how it’s going to go’ statement and give him a choice within that.”
I turned to Danny and said, ‘Your lesson is all done. It is time to go to Grandma’s.”
I then had the parents stand quietly about a foot apart in front of him as I said slowly, “Do you want Mommy to pick you up?’ I pointed at Mommy. “Or Daddy to pick you up?” as I pointed at him.
Danny looked at his mom for several moments and then his dad. He was very quiet. It was like you could hear the wheels turning in his brain. Then this huge smile crossed his face as he kept looking at his dad. Since he doesn’t say ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ yet, I knew he was indicating he wanted Dad to pick him up.
So I had his father pick him up as soon as he smiled.
If I’d had the father wait several minutes to pick him up, Danny wouldn’t have associated his choice with him getting to be picked up by his dad.
Speaking to a child in one of two ways- telling him how something is going to go or giving him a choice- allows him to make better sense of his world and can make for clearer communication and calmer interactions between you.
Lara Gillease, President & Founder of Lara’s Integrative Movement since 2000, teaches adults and children new ways of learning and how to move with greater ease and freedom while relieving tension and stress in one-on-one sessions. She also offers an online, self-study movement program, Move Free. Additionally she is one of Anat Baniel’s Trainers for teaching and certifying new Anat Baniel Method NeuroMovement Teachers and works alongside Anat Baniel and team at her world headquarters- The ABM NeuroMovement Center.
Share with Lara your experiences about how you communicate with a child BELOW.