Can you remember comforting someone who was feeling sad, anxious or distressed? And can you remember how you felt afterwards?
We humans are able to share feelings without having to express them in words. This has helped us live, work and play in groups since the beginning of human civilization. We often “mirror” others’ feelings without noticing. This means that we can “catch” sadness, anger, happiness and worry from each other. This happens with both good and bad feelings. By taking good care of yourself, you can pass on hope, comfort and courage to your child. Here is an activity that can help. It starts with a question:
“Which of your toys needs a cuddle today?”
Help your child choose an animal or doll that is feeling sad or anxious, perhaps because it’s all alone or because it doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. Choose an animal that you can use to show your child how to comfort theirs.
Invite your child to hug their animal tightly and ask them “Can you take really good care of him?”
Show your child how to comfort their toy. Maybe they want to whisper some comforting words in their ear?
If you want, you can demonstrate the “butterfly hug” for your child. To do the butterfly hug, cross your arms over the animal and gently pat your right and left shoulders or sides, alternating between both sides regularly, in a tempo that you find pleasant.
Notice what happens to your breathing, and any other changes in your body.
You and your child comfort your toys together. Pay attention to any changes that you can see – breathing, muscle tension, gaze, facial expression?
What changes do you notice in yourself? If you notice any pleasant changes, you can encourage your child to notice them too. You can do this by telling them what you see, and asking if they want to take some time to notice it. Also, you can ask them where they can feel comfort inside their body, and if they want to take some time to enjoy that pleasant feeling.
Adapted from the “Huggy-Puppy Intervention”, https://www.nbci.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/215945
What changes did you notice in yourself and in your child?
Face – relaxed or tense?
Breathing – shallow or deeper?
Muscles – loose or tight?
Voice – soft or “pressed”?