A few weeks ago, I came across a quote that resonated with me. Here it is:
“When our little people are overwhelmed by big emotions it is our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”
The quote immediately reminded me of a story one of my former supervisees told me several years ago.
Amber (not her real name) was a new therapist, just beginning to navigate her first few sessions with her clients. Even early on, she had an innate ability to build trusting relationships with her clients.
Amber primarily worked with elementary age children, as part of a school-based mental health program. Many of the children she worked with were in foster care, with a history of trauma, neglect, or abuse.
During one supervision session, she told me that she had been to see one of her clients – a 7-year-old boy- at school earlier that week.
The little boy was having a particularly rough day. Amber said he was having some pretty big emotions and was expressing them by yelling, kicking, and crying. The teachers had tried a variety of unsuccessful methods to calm him – putting him in time-out, threatening to call his foster parents, etc.
Amber was unsure what to do, but she decided to give one idea a try. She calmly sat next to the boy and, without saying a word, she began breathing very deeply and very slowly in….and…..out, in…..and…..out.
She kept some distance between them so he had ample space, but she made sure her breathing was deep and audible.
She never said a word, never asked him to breath with her, or asked him why he was upset. She simply sat next to him and shared her calm.
After a few minutes of this, the little boy stopped yelling, and began to match her breathing – very slowly in….and…..out, in…..and…..out.
This story has stayed with me ever since as a beautiful example of sharing our calm with another person.
I think you’ll agree that this technique extends far beyond our work with little ones. The idea of sharing our calm can easily apply to adult clients, our friends and our loved ones.
I imagine how this technique could be utilized during an intense couples session, when emotions are high and there is much to unpack. During my previous work with couples and families, I often felt the tendency to be a bit more hands on – playing the referee during high intensity moments. But, perhaps the better approach is simply to help slow things down — creating some intentional space for each person to transition any chaos into calm before moving forward.
Perhaps this would look like saying, “There are some really big emotions here today, let’s sit quietly for a moment and determine what we want to discuss first.”
A few other statements that I think help bring calm into a session are statements like:
Isn’t it interesting that some of the most effective reflections are simple and short. They don’t come through probing questions or psychological insights, they simply come from sharing a sense of calm, acceptance, and understanding with our clients.
What techniques have you used to help share your calm with others?
If you have any reflections or learnings you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear them.