I had a client a few years back. A young boy. His biggest challenge was boundaries - emotional and physical.
I’d been working with him for months and in my perspective, he had come so far! He was so much more aware of his body and capable of being gentle, focused, calm and grounded.
I went in to see him for our regular session and mom pulled me aside and mentioned he had pushed his friend and she was concerned as this wasn’t normal behavior.
We began our session. I checked in with him about the friend mom had mentioned and also asked about other things. No big responses.
About mid-way through the session, his mom came in to give me a roasted kale snack - she was making a big homemade batch and thought I might enjoy some.
Her son started yelling and ran out of the room. Recognizable that he doesn’t like vegetables or things that are green, but his response was charged and blown out of context, so I knew something else was going on.
Mom left and took the scary snack with her.
And if you have kids or work with kids, I know you have experienced what happened next: Clear and utter defiance of boundaries.
He and I had a previous boundary set - an agreement - that during our sessions we would stay in the room (meaning we wouldn’t travel all over the apartment, which is what he desired at first).
So first, he left the room to go to mom. Well, she, of course, sent him right back to me.
I reminded him of our boundary of staying in the room.
So he proceeded to break the boundary at once and go to his parent’s room across the hall - where they were not, so he couldn’t be sent back.
Such a clear and intentional breach of boundary.
So I walked across the hall and in silence, gently led him back to his room. He didn’t resist, but it wasn’t the end.
I shut the door and sat in front of it, and calmly said, “We still have time. It’s your choice what we do next.”
His voice got loud and he said, “No, Kelsey! Not today, Kelsey.”
Calm, quiet, but firm, I told him I wasn’t going to leave with him feeling this way. No matter how long it took.
Again and again. “No! Not today, Kelsey.”
Meanwhile, I’ve put myself in Hook-Ups, a Brain Gym technique that helps reduce stress, because honestly, I’m starting to feel nervous. My heart is racing, but I know I can’t leave him upset. We have to get to the other side of this.
He is energetically spinning. Repeating the same words. Words that he’s clearly heard from his parents and teachers, and probably from me, too.
No, not today, we can’t do that today, we can’t go there today, we can’t, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t.
Sometimes it’s too much.
What if you were told that again and again and again. Would you be upset? Frustrated? Angry?
He was experiencing strong feelings and he didn’t know what to do. So he lashed out the one way he knew how in a space where he felt safe. It didn’t have anything to do with me and he didn’t ‘want’ me, but he needed me - or someone - to let him have his feelings and for that to be okay.
Once I felt calm and steady and could tell the cycle wouldn't stop unless I stepped in somehow, I stood up and calmly walked towards him and said quietly, “I’m going to hold some points on your feet.”
Initially, for a moment, he allowed me to do this. Then he began to resist, BUT, as he resisted, he gave me an opening. He said, “You can’t catch me.”
And I took the opening. I said playfully, “Oh yeah?” And started to playfully grab for his feet. He pulled his feet away and threw a pillow at me.
But he was smiling. And I was smiling.
I took the pillow, placed it over my tummy and moved towards him, he put his feet on the pillow and pushed me away. We did this over and over and over again. I pretended to use all of my effort. He laughed and used all of his strength.
Yes, he still had feelings. At one point he said, “Stop.” And I immediately stopped.
This is important. He set a boundary and I needed to show him that his boundary meant something.
Then he asked me to do it again.
At this point I felt the majority of his feelings had been released and trust and joy had been reinstated so I set a new boundary. “Only a few more times,” I said. I suggested 4, he said 10. I said 10 was too many, what’s a number between 4 and 10 and he said 6. We did it 6 more times.
And here’s the miracle. This is a kid who has previously struggled with any type of boundary.
At the end of 6 times he said, “I’m ready. 6 times. We did it. I’ll see you next time, Kelsey.”
There were also no more reports of pushing.
Now, I know all of the above is much easier said than done!
It’s hard to provide a safe container for kids to feel what they’re feeling, be safe and also still understand and respect boundaries, and in each situation it can look different.
But the benefits are worth it.
It starts with us.
The more we are able to stay present, calm, keep our own emotions in check and not take our children’s feelings personally, the more we can actually allow them their experience and be of service to them.
Again, this is hard! I had to use a tool in the moment (and often do when I’m working with kids or adults going through big emotions) to help me be my best. From there it’s so much easier to recall a tool that might help them and to witness and utilize those moments of play for transformation.
If you’re new to taking care of yourself - or would like some extra support and guidance along your self-care journey - then join me for my FREE Self-Care From Scratch Webinar!
You’ll learn the technique I used in this particular session and many more to help you start and sustain your own daily practice.
I'll see you there!