When I am with the child I am energetic. I’ve been doing this long enough that this no longer feels like a moment-by-moment choice, though I know that it is. When I enter the room to be with the child and for the duration of my time with that child I am not tired, I do not think about things unrelated to the lesson, I am there to be of service, and I am present. That sounds like a lot. It isn’t.
When I began working with children with autism I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer in the home-based Son-Rise program of a child in Sebastopol, CA – my hometown. In the weeks and months preceding my decision to work for this family I had met many families that ran Son-Rise programs for their children. I was amazed at how passionate, enthusiastic, and energetic all of these parents were in pursuit of better lives for their children. Keep in mind that I have never been accused of shortness of energy! As a novice freshman dancer at Reed College I was elected “Dance Commander” for my newfound passion for the sport. Years later as a personal trainer I was that trainer who ran every step with each client – many, many miles each day! But when I met these parents of the special-needs children I was amazed at how they could be passionately loving and energetic for many hours at a stretch. I experienced this myself first, sitting down to dinner with groups of parents. I was tired from a long day of study and exploration. These parents would be rearing to go, always ready to ask another question or tell another story. I remember the day when I realized that I wanted that energy for myself.
I found an amazing family and would visit them for several days spending a couple of hours two times each day in what Son-Rise families call the Play Room. I was given supportive feedback on how I was with the child (a sweetheart of a nine-year-old girl) and then sent back into the room to practice. I have trained in Tibetan Buddhist meditation, tai chi, and aikido. All of those pale by comparison! The training was invaluable and I saw patterns in my behavior. For example when I was uncomfortable with the little girl’s behavior I would be less enthusiastic and less responsive to her invitations (what they call green lights). I still do this in social settings. If we are out to dinner with a group of people you can tell if I’m uncomfortable by my silent withdrawal. I learned in those months working with that little girl that energy is something that I could cultivate. When I went in not knowing that I was magnetic to her, energetic in myself, and creative in my capacity to come up with activities for us to share – we made no progress. And when I went in energetic we had a quality of connection that I savor to this day.
Steps to cultivating energy while with your child:
- Choose It really is as simple as a choice. Sometimes that choice needs be be made moment to moment and other times it is enough to just make a decision once and find several hours later that you’ve stuck to it.
- Prepare At first I found a distinct difference between going into the playroom and going into the playroom with a clear intention to be – for example – authentic, enthusiastic, energetic, or playful. Depending on who I am going to work with I often still find it useful to consider how I would like to be when I enter my studio. Now that decision has more to do with considering what I think will be most useful to the person I’m about to see. There is also an aspect of preparing that has to do with how I eat, how I sleep, and how I take care of myself. I love swing dancing for four or six hours in a night and I do not do so if I have a client that I’m going to be seeing the following morning! Similarly, I found it very useful to eat well because then I have even more capacity to be present in energetic with my client the following day. I can do it without this preparation and there are often consequences – I get sick or am less productive throughout the rest of the day.
- Practice Practice makes a pattern. There are many things in my life that even a couple of years ago I would’ve said were impossible. I have learned to be energetic with the children I see through practice. I’m getting better all the time. In the early days if for one hour or one day I was not energetic enough I would berate myself. Now I am much more forgiving and as a consequence much more successfully, regularly energetic. Do practice being energetic when you are with your child. Also practice not berating yourself when you are not!
Have fun. Go gently – with yourself and with your child. And practice being energetic and the center of attention with your child.