Working with children, as I do, takes an enormous amount of emotional intelligence. Teaching them music, poetry, and drama - even more so. It's my job to help them find a way into connecting with themselves and then infusing that connection with a real confidence that allows them to show it in front of others, even though they might be afraid.
It's a tall task, far beyond simply teaching them the musical staff, notation values, and the like. This is deep psychological and spiritual work. For me to do it, I have to constantly work on myself. This can take some ridiculous forms, like my wearing a crown and sunglasses while teaching nine year olds to battle rap, which I did earlier today.
Besides just general over reaching ridiculousness to soften the atmosphere, I am constantly on the look out for insightful new techniques and methods to emotionally connect with both my students and others.
Such a concept was introduced to me recently while hearing a report by two clinical psychologists who work primarily with abused children. They say that a vast majority of children who are abused will fall to say something because they don't feel that they can trust anyone, especially adults. They then lock away the deep pain caused by what they have gone through, letting it eventually turn toxic and manifest in other ways.
These men stated that often, when in distress, a child tends to be asked something along the lines of "What's wrong with you?" or "What's wrong?" The psychologists then stated that the best phrase to use in such a situation, when seeing a child in distress, is to ask "What happened to you?"
That phrasing is very specific, communicating that one; something has actually happened (they aren't making it up or exaggerating) and two; it recognizes them as being worthy of recognition in themselves - they matter and that you are taking an interest in them. It may seem overly cuddly feely, but these things really matter in the lives of children. The difference in obvious.
While I began using this phrase on a daily basis when children appeared to be distressed, I noticed a very marked change in how willingly they communicated their problems with me. There has been an overall deepening of many of my connections with my students and I plan on using this phrase well into the future.
However, this got me thinking. Sure, this technique may be designed for children, but how many adults walk through the work, anxious and desperate, depressed and never have someone ask them the same question, "What happened to you?" My guess is far too many.
It becomes so easy to push our way through life, eyes always ahead, only on our own business. I'm guilty of this. And I'm not suggesting that we become derailed in our lives, needing to save the entire planet through emphatic conversation. We all know what an energy drain that can become. However, I would like to offer the idea that if you have the inclination; if you ever feel the internal urging to do so, check on someone around you. Ask them how they are. If they are distressed, consider asking them "what happened to you?"
I know from experience that, during the darkest moments in my life, a question like that might have pulled me back from the edge before I got as close as I did.