Having explored, reviewed literature and discovered as much as I possibly could about the evidence for using hypnosis with children, and looking at studies focused around the subject of hypnotic responsiveness of children, I decided that this was a subject matter that I was giving myself a green light to push forward into.
However, as I wrote about in my mini series a fortnight ago on my blog (which can be read by reading my previous 4 blog entries here) there are already books doing a brilliant job on showing hypnosis professionals what to do and how to do it when it comes to specialist knowledge and using hypnosis with children.
As I have looked around a great deal more though, it has become apparent that there is not a great deal of literature out there that shows parents how to use hypnotic principles and techniques to help their own children with issues they may be facing. There is very little showing parents how to teach their children self-hypnosis skills too. I had a light bulb moment!
That is what I have tasked myself with in the coming months; showing parents how to teach their children self-hypnosis and utilise hypnotic methods. A new blog and book filled with lessons on how to do this are in the process of being put together and will come together at the end of this year.
Knowing that children are responsive and seeing the evidence for the use of hypnosis and self-hypnosis is one thing. That stuff may well help keep parents reassured about the application of this stuff, but how do us hypnosis professionals actually go about doing it? How do those of us with existing hypnosis skills teach self-hypnosis to children? That is what I want to show you today folks; how hypnosis professionals can teach children self-hypnosis in a relatively short period of time. Most of the people that read my blog are hypnosis professionals, so it makes sense to write for you guys here, right?
One of the first considerations that I state to fellow hypnotherapists when advising and teaching them how to work with children, is that they need to have a wide array of different induction techniques available to them, in order that they can offer the child what is best for the child based on the kind of child they are, the kind of things the child likes and particular preferences. In a professional practice, often the best hypnotic inductions are those that are based upon knowledge of the client’s likes and dislikes, the kind of language they respond to with most favour, their own past experiences as well as the aspirations they have for themselves – the same can be said when working with children.
When showing parents how to do this stuff, this part is easier for them – parents know inherently those kinds of details and can thus make a decision about how to apply the induction in the best way for their child accordingly.
There may be initial resistance on the child’s part when it comes to learning self-hypnosis. I mean, the child might be unwilling or unable to follow instructions you are giving due to them being at an age or developmental level or having emotional issues that make it problematic to respond accordingly or learn.
Secondly, the child may simply lack the motivation to make a particular change or overcome a particular issue. I once worked in my clinical practice with a child whose parents wanted him to stop sucking his thumb, but he did not really want to.
One of the main issues that I have encountered in my professional practice is when I have worked with a child and given them the task of practicing their self-hypnosis techniques in between sessions, I am often confronted with excuses. That is why the role of the parent is so important and useful. The parent can overtly or subtly motivate, encourage and support.
It is a topic for another day, but it is important for the parent and the child to understand hypnosis and have a good understanding of it – research shows that with children and adults using hypnosis, they benefit much more and the effectiveness is far greater when they understand that they are using hypnosis and what they are doing is framed as such. I.e. They do not just think they are using their imagination to think pleasant things. They know it is hypnosis that they are using.
There does tend to be some consensus among academics in the hypnosis field that contextual variables do indeed play some sort of role in the hypnotic responses that people have (Kirsch & Lynn, 1995). In fact, an increasing number of studies have found that simply relabeling a cognitive-behavioral intervention as hypnosis does increases its effectiveness (see Kirsch, Montgomery, & Sapirstein, 1995 for a meta-analysis of this).
When involving parents and making sure they have a good understanding of the subject, some authors recommend allowing them to experience hypnosis themselves to know and empathise with what the child’s experience is when they use hypnosis. Despite some authors (LaBaw, Holton, Tewell, 1975) allowing parents to experience a hypnotic induction in the presence of their children, Gardner (1976) suggests that it may be best if the child is not present. In case there is any abreaction or problem with the parental experience that is best not witnessed by the child. Likewise, when educating the child (and parent) in order to advance hypnotic responsiveness, both parent and child should know that they can communicate with each other when the child is in hypnosis, in the event of an emergency.
Back on topic…
As often is stated by adults too, there are children who respond well to hetero-hypnosis, but get concerned at their own ability to maintain focus and conclude a full self-hypnosis session without a hypnotist or guide being present.
Likewise, I worked with a 13 year old girl who was sure of the hypnosis when I was working with her, but was not sure of it when doing it herself. This is a common concern or distraction. I showed her how to practice some of the classic Emile Coué convincers to show herself that she was self-hypnotising.
Other children may fall asleep when they practice, and some worry about possibly falling asleep. I tend to recommend that they sit upright when practicing, or even use an alarm clock to alert them that 10 minutes is up.
Importantly, if there is resistance, it can usually be overcome with careful discussion and explanation as well as using strategies that will help deal with the objection.
As well as actually achieving specific desired outcomes with each child, what we also really want to establish by teaching self-hypnosis to children, is that they can be in control of themselves and their own mind and their own well-being.
This can potentially get hampered by parents if they are too pushy, too insistent or too authoritative when teaching their child self-hypnosis.
Kohen and Olness (2011) specifically suggest that parents do not keep on at their children telling them to engage in regular self-hypnosis practice. Even though we know that practice and repetition enhances self-efficacy and responsiveness (Spanos, 1986).
Instead, it is suggested by the same authors (Kohen and Olness, 2011) that it will be more successful if the children are made aware at the very beginning that they are themselves responsible for solving their own problems. They state that if the child already feels helpless with regards to their problems, the involvement of parents may simply serve to create a passive, dependent position of the child.
Common sense tells us, as well as academic papers (i.e. Gardner, 1974) that beneficial and useful involvement by parents is simply not always possible.
Gardner (1974), who is one of the most prolific academics and contributors to this field, suggests that most parents can help develop and encourage the child’s use of self-hypnosis without being intrusive or undermining their level of personal control and belief in their own ability to solve their own problems.
Likewise, just as some children require help getting onto their bicycle and help with being stable as they are learning, some children may prefer the input and support of a parent who can help to reassure them, encourage them and keep them on track with self-hypnosis.
I am also of the opinion that when a child and parent share all or part of the self-hypnosis experience, it can instill hope and reduce any sense of loneliness that some problems can bring.
When I get started with my new blog and start putting my new book together, it is going to be aimed at parents, and so my own decision about whether to include parents in the process is made already.
Whether you hypnosis professionals want to involve the parents in depth or not, I’d consider each individual case in full prior to making any decisions. Most of the literature I have reviewed, read and explored suggests that parents should probably not be involved in cases where there is a seriously disturbed parent/child relationship or where the parent is particularly anxious regarding the child’s problem. Parents will probably be helpful participants when they can maintain some degree of objectivity and are not caught up in issues of control or parent-child ego issues.
How To Teach Children Self-Hypnosis:
This particular method I am sharing today is based upon a process I read in a 1981 academic paper entitled Teaching Self-Hypnosis To Children by Gail Gardner. There are many other derivatives of it that I have encountered and there are many, many other processes that I plan to share and write about for the use of parents to use when helping their child use self-hypnosis. This is a very simple and easy process to follow to teach any child how to use self-hypnosis if you already are a trained hypnosis professional.
This kind of process is best used with children of at least 5 years old.
I think before you start, it is important that you help to motivate and ensure the child is motivated to learn how to use self-hypnosis. I do all I can to frame it as a very cool skill, but also realise that trying to be ‘down with the kids’ can backfire!!
Then, as previously stated, you want to make sure the child understands hypnosis in general and also understands that it will be of great benefit to practice self-hypnosis afterwards. Then you follow these simple steps:
Knowing what you know of the child, you choose which hypnosis inductions you are going to use with the child. You’ll want to have a few in mind in case one is not considered suitable or worthy of engaging with according to the child. However, you are going to use a handful of different techniques to begin with.
Ideally, you’ll want to have inductions methods in mind that include pleasant imagery pertaining to the likes of the child as well as ideomotor techniques such as arm catalepsy, arm lowering (heavy arm technique) or arm levitation. These are particularly useful as convincers of hypnosis and give some visible evidence that hypnosis is happening, which some children require.
You could use eye fixation, but also be prepared that children sometimes do not keep their eyes closed the entire time and they will shuffle around or even talk throughout. It does not mean that they are resisting or not being receptive, it is part of what we have to deal with when working with children. The child may be adapting and getting used to the process as well as simply engaging in their own way. It is best to go with it and not resist their behaviour or label what they do as wrong – that’ll only create tension.
Once you have carried out your range of inductions one after the other, then say something along the lines of:
Well done… You can easily carry on enjoying these good feelings while in hypnosis for a few more moments [specific parts of the inductions and imagery used may be referred to again here]. Then, in a few moments, I am going to teach you how to come out of hypnosis all by yourself. Then you can bring these great feelings with you and still have them afterwards. Which of those great feelings do you like the most? [Wait for the child’s reply.] That’s great. Continue to enjoy those for a minute or two. [Pause for 1-2 minutes. Though you may want to check in with the child at times to reassure them by stating “that’s right” or similar]
Ok that was really well done, all you need do to leave hypnosis is count silently to yourself from one to five. With each number that you count, you allow yourself to come up and return, remembering being with me here in this room. When you count five, you open your eyes feeling great, fully alert again and feeling even more in control. So simply count to 5 and bring yourself up and out of hypnosis.
If the child comes up and out of hypnosis within a minute, say “Thank you. Well done” and proceed to encourage the child, ratify their experience and remind them of what they have done. Then ask the child how he/she feels before moving on to the next step. If the child still seems sleepy after a minute or has not opened their eyes, you can encourage them to come up and out again, you might repeat the count out process, you might even choose to count him/her out yourself, but first of all, remind them to count and open their eyes without you and tell them you are going to then teach the child some other great things. Then move on to the next step.
On the rare occasions a child states that he/she wishes to stay in hypnosis and enjoy the imagination some more, I remind them that they can bring those great feelings with them and use them in other parts of his/her life too.
Once the child is fully emerged from hypnosis and reoriented, you say something along the lines of:
Well done. See how easy it is to bring yourself out of hypnosis? [Sometimes it is worth nodding here to elicit agreement] You can always bring yourself up and out of hypnosis simply by counting from one to five silently in your mind. [It is sometimes worth adding some excitement or even a knowing smile for the next sentence] Want to know something really cool? If you ever want to bring yourself up and out of hypnosis in a hurry, especially if you have to go and do something very quickly or unexpectedly, then you don’t even have to count to five! You can just choose to come out of hypnosis straight away, and when you then open your eyes, you are out of hypnosis and fully alert again, great eh?
Also, because you all the great feelings of hypnosis with you, you are able to go and do that thing even better than usual! At the times you do not need to come out really quickly, it is still best to count from 1 to 5 to come up gradually and properly, like when you awake from sleep in the morning, it takes a few moments to get fully alert, but anytime you want to or need to, you can just choose to come out and when you open your eyes, you have done it. Remember, you can choose and you are in control of it.”
Now you have a good chat with the child about what they have learned. Importantly, you now tell the child that he/she has now easily learned how to do the thing that most people think is the hardest part of self-hypnosis – coming out. Also show how he/she is able to talk when using hypnosis and it does not disturb the hypnosis, it can actually sometimes make it more relaxing and better.
Once you have given these instructions, ratified accordingly and made sure the child understands, then move on to step three.
Now you simply review what was done earlier in the session, remind the child of the induction methods you used and ask him/her which one he/she enjoyed the most and/or preferred. Enquire with the child about what it was that he/she liked about it and then state something along these lines:
Thank you for sharing that with me, you were clearly paying attention and enjoying that part of the session. You have now helped me and you decide what is the best way for you to use self-hypnosis. We are going to use the [Name the child’s favourite induction, using his/her words and explanation of it]. To begin with, I am going to give you just a little bit of help while I show you how to go into hypnosis yourself. After that, I am going to show you how to use self-hypnosis by yourself and not even need me! You’ll be able to do this great skill whenever you want and enjoy those great feelings anytime you choose! Shall we get started and go back into hypnosis now? [Proceed with the child’s agreement] Great. Now all you have to do is tell me again in detail the way you are going to go into hypnosis –just describe in as many of the things we did before that you enjoyed the most. Remember all those great feelings you had when you were in hypnosis and as you tell me all about those things, notice all those same feelings start to happen again, really easily. That’s it, just let those great feelings happen and notice those sensations happening that tell you that you are in hypnosis, just let it all happen again… Good…. [Give the child some space to do their own thing now. You may add some of the details they gave you previously at times if you feel it is necessary or if you think the child needs to be more specific.]
As the child starts to show signs of being hypnotised, now state something along the lines of:
That’s really good. Notice what is happening as you say that. Continue to simply let it happen again. When you have noticed all those same feelings of being hypnotised again, when you know that you are in hypnosis, just nod your head so that I can see that you are in hypnosis for sure. [Wait quietly until the child nods, though you may encourage minimally at times.] That’s great, well done for getting into hypnosis again. Really good stuff. [If the child seems to find it difficult or seems to be unsure, then help with some more details and instructions or ask them what they are experiencing and either build deeper into hypnosis from there, or respond accordingly to the issue they cite.]
Once they have nodded the head and indicated they are in hypnosis, state something along the lines of:
You are doing really well, continue to enjoy these good feelings. And, like we did earlier, take a minute or two to enjoy the wonderful hypnotic feelings, you might notice them getting even more enjoyable and remind yourself of how you are going to use self-hypnosis to deal with that issue [Be specific about the child’s issue and the way in which you plan for them to use self-hypnosis – using imagination, practicing certain skills or therapeutic interventions done in the session etc.].
[Once 1-2 minutes have passed] Well done, now count yourself up and out of hypnosis as you learned to do earlier. [Pause for the child to come out of hypnosis and open his/her eyes.] Great stuff, well done. Now, tell me how that was… [Ask about their experience, any problems, difficulties, and answer any questions the child has.]
Once you have had a chat and reflected, move on to step four.
State something along the lines of:
Having done so well up until now, I think you are ready to take yourself into hypnosis without me, aren’t you? [Wait for agreement from child.] That’s great. So this time, you simply think those same things that you thought before and let all those same feelings happen again [unless you have made tweaks or changes resulting from your previous discussion]; just remember those details of how you went into hypnosis before, and go into hypnosis yourself. Unless you want to, there is no need to tell me anything, just go ahead and do it for yourself in your own mind. Choose to make it happen. That’s it, you know what to do, you can choose to simply let it happen again. It only happens when you decide it can happen and when you make it happen, so you just have to focus your mind and remember those thoughts and great feelings and let them happen again. Have some fun, go into hypnosis, nod to show me when you are there, enjoy all those great hypnosis feelings and when you are ready, bring yourself up and out of hypnosis in the way you know how and have done before. Go for it.
Unless the child is clearly having difficulties or asks you a question or airs an issue (which you’ll deal with and return to the earlier step if necessary), then you remain quiet throughout – though when the child nods, thank the child and acknowledge – maybe even encourage very briefly. When the child has then brought himself up and out of hypnosis, congratulate the child, encourage the child and feedback to the child reminding them of how well he/she has done.
If you have parents involved closely, it is beneficial for them and the child to know that the child can talk in hypnosis and also for them to show what they are achieving and learning. Therefore, you might want to bring the parent/s into your consulting room at the end of a session and let the child demonstrate their self-hypnosis skills, and tell the parents when they are hypnotised and then come out.
Ensure there is an appropriate amount of encouragement and positive reinforcement, dependent on the requirements of the specific child too.
All that remains is to remind the child of making it a daily practice in between sessions and then send him/her off to do that. I love the idea of teaching children these amazing skills – skills that will help them massively as they develop.
Gardner, G. G. (1974). Parents: obstacles or allies in child hypnotherapy? American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 17, 44-49.
Gardner, G. G. (1976). Childhood, death, and human dignity: Hypnotherapy for David. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 24, 122-139.
Gardner, G. G. (1980). Hypnosis with children: selected readings. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 28, 289-293.
Gardner, G. G. (1981). Teaching Self-Hypnosis To Children. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 29, 300-312.
Gorassini, D. R., & Spanos, N.P. (1986). A social-cognitive skills approach to successful modification of hypnotic susceptibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 1004-1012.
Kirsch, I., Montgomery, G., & Sapirstein, G. (1995). Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63,214-220.
Kirsch, I., & Lynn, S. J. (1995). The altered state of hypnosis: Changes in the theoretical landscape. American Psychologist, 50,846-858.
Kohen, D. P., and Olness, K. (2011) Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy With Children (4th Ed) Routledge London.
Labaw, W., Holton, C., Tewell, K. (1975) The use of self-hypnosis by children with cancer. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 17, 233-238.