With hypnosis for children there are a very wide and varied number of inductions that can be used. Though the same sorts of inductions and methodologies can be applied with children as used with adults, there are some considerations and ways to make the inductions more child-friendly.

Today, I thought I’d simply share a handful of methods for inducing hypnosis with children… Of course this article and yesterdays are aimed at hypnosis professionals and child therapists who use hypnosis.

1. More Eye Fixation:

In addition to the ‘magic coin’ induction I mentioned yesterday which utilizes eye fixation, another simple way to use eye-fixation in a child-friendly way is to ask them to focus on their own hand.

Step One: Have the child adopt a good, comfortable and receptive position. Ideally with their hands on the arms of the chair or facing down onto the lap.

Step Two: Ask the child to look down and focus on a single point on the back of one of the hand. It can sometimes make it easier to focus on a mark, freckle, hair, finger nail or even a pen mark.  Ask them to keep focusing on that point for a few seconds. Tell them it is ok if their vision softens or blurs from time to time, that is just the eyes functioning properly.

Step Three: As they focus, they just take 3 slightly deeper breaths and with each breath that they breathe outwards, they relax more, and on the third breath, they allow the eyes to close and the entire body relaxes.

You have an opportunity to follow this up with a progressive relaxation deepener or mental imagery should it be required prior to the therapeutic intervention.

2. Varying Mental Imagery:

It is tough to offer up any concise version of mental imagery hypnosis inductions, because there are so very, very many. I know lots of therapists that use all manner of wondrous fantastical notions that seem to take children on amazing journeys within the induction process. I tend to opt for familiarity though as it helps them to create the imagery for themselves rather than follow my ideas, which is just my own personal preference and not deemed better in any way.

Here are two such methods. This first one using a favourite place, presupposes you have asked and got this information (what their favourite place is) in your assessment or immediately prior to using this technique:

Step One: You introduce and talk a little bit about the favourite place they have mentioned and ask them to describe it to you in a bit more detail. Ask them what they like to actually do when they are in that favourite place and have them describe that.

Step Two: Once the child has finished describing what he/she likes to do in the favourite place, ask them to imagine that they can see them self there in that place, doing that thing.

Say to the child “it looks like (child’s name) is enjoying himself/herself there, doesn’t it?” As you get agreement, ask the child to tell you how he or she can tell that he or she is enjoying it.

Step Three: Now ask the child to close his or her eyes and imagine actually being there, doing that thing. You might even have them make specific actions. Ask them to see what they would be seeing and hearing the sounds, as if they are really there.

There is no need to suggest they go deeper as the more time they spend imagining actually being there, the deeper they tend to go and you can proceed to the intervention when it is natural and appropriate. It makes sense to work the favourite place naturally into the intervention if possible.

This second mental imagery process, uses a favourite television programme or film. Again, it presupposes you have got that information (what their favourite TV show is or favourite film is) in your assessment or prior to using this induction:

Step One:  Ask the child to imagine that he or she is getting ready to watch the favourite television programme (or film). Have them explain to you the layout of the room and where the telly is. Then ask them to imagine getting the TV remote control, pointing it at the telly and pressing the button to turn it on and then select the correct channel to watch the programme.

Take some time doing this; make sure it is done thoroughly and surely and at a pace that the child can keep up with. When they turn the television on, tell them to comfortably close their eyes at the same time to see the TV screen in detail.

Step Two: Now ask the child to imagine watching the favourite programme on the TV screen. Have them set the sound just right too. Get them to tune into it and see the variety of images, colours, details, etc and hear the variety of sounds.

Step Three: As they watch it, just start to suggest they are feeling more relaxed and comfortable. Do this subtly and not as if you are ordering them to do so. This is insinuated deepening and allows you to now move into your intervention.

The TV screen is useful to use for a wide variety of interventions and having the TV remote control means that the channel can be changed whenever you want and can be used to move onto something different within the session. 

The induction can easily form part of the intervention with these types of methods.

3. Inducing By Telling A Story:

For those that enjoy Ericksonian methods, then story telling may well be for you as a means of inducing. The literature does not really discriminate too much, but I know a number of academics do not really consider story telling to be the same type of hypnosis – I think it is a discussion that is unlikely to help the children we work with and story telling is used by many professionals; it would be remiss of me to allow my own bias to exclude this method of inducing hypnosis.

On occasion, the child may not wish to engage with the formal methods or may feel uncomfortable at early stages of therapy to fully follow instructions for the other types of induction. Therefore, a story that reflects the child’s likes, dislikes, issues or problems can be useful. You simply tell the story and have them follow and become absorbed in it.

The story could be entirely new and made up and have some parallel content of the child’s life and interests, or it could utilise the child’s favourite TV show, film or favourite place too to enhance the sense of familiarity (which I value, as previously mentioned). If it seems appropriate or useful, the child could be asked to input in some way to the story or to help develop the story.

In the same way that therapists generate metaphors for their clients, the same can be done with these stories for inducing hypnosis and offering up a therapeutic benefit. Characters in the story can represent facets of the child’s life and the story can offer up a happy ending and beneficial resolution or outcome, which the child takes on board.

The hypnotic effect can be built by punctuating the story with suggestions of comfort, calmness, relaxation and focus if appropriate – when the child is absorbed, proponents of story telling hypnotic techniques believe it is similar (if not the same) to the experience of hypnosis.

The story can then lead to offering suggestions for therapeutic benefit too.

4. Ideomotor Techniques:

When using these types of inductions methods, you would not refer to them as ‘ideomotor techniques’ that is a surefire way to confuse and distract.

This is teaching hypnosis professionals to suck eggs, I know, but ideomotor simply refers to the idea/imagination (ideo) creating a physical movement (motor).

This type of induction methods require the child to imagine a movement happening to them, they focus on that particular movement happening and then to let the movement happen. It can often be associated with a lot of light hearted fun in a session.

This kind of process is particularly useful to illustrating how the child can use the mind and imagination to take control of physical issues such as pain that they are experiencing. They also illustrate the value of making an effort and being an instrumental part of your own therapy, thus building self-efficacy, ideally. Here are a couple of ways to use ideomotor inductions, the first is similar to the magnetic hands type of process many hypnosis professionals use with adult clients:

Step One: Ask the child to hold his/her arms straight out in front of them. I think most children are taught in metric these days, so I tend to tell them to hold their hands 10-15cm apart with the palms facing each other.

Step Two: With the hands in position, you ask the child to imagine that he/she has attracting magnets in the palm of each hand. As a side note here, you might refer to a magnet and a piece of metal, simply because I have worked with children who had magnets that repelled each other and as a result felt this technique made their hands move further apart rather than moving closer which is what we want to happen here.

Step Three:  Ask the child to really engage with the magnets, to focus on them and to imagine as best and as vividly as possible that the magnets are drawing the hands inwards and closer together.

You will benefit from building upon it. “The closer the magnets get, the stronger they pull together” type of thing. Suggest that the magnets pull and the hands move all by themselves rather than the child actually moving them directly.  Tell them that as they imagine it more clearly, the movement happens all by itself. Encourage them to believe it is happening.

Tell them that as soon as the hands touch, that they close their eyes and start to relax really deeply and enjoy the comfortable feelings spreading through the body. You then proceed with a progressive relaxation deepener, or another deepener before moving on to your intervention.

This next ideomotor process is much more easily done with children than an arm levitation process as it incorporates a more naturally occurring use of weight that supports the child’s imagination. Arm levitation proves less effective in my experience, especially in early sessions:

Step One: Ask the child to place one of their arms directly out in front of them with the palm facing upwards toward the ceiling.

Step Two: Suggest to them that you are placing a very big, heavy, think book on the palm of their hand. It might be a dictionary or an encyclopaedia. Have the child imagine the details of the book and then imagine it resting there on the palm and arm. Then ask them to imagine putting another one on top of the first one.

Step Three:  Now start to suggest that the child imagine that the arm is feeling heavier. Help them to be convinced that it is getting heavier. As it feels heavier, ask the child to imagine the arm drifting to their lap. Suggest it getting heavier and heavier and drifting down and that as soon as the arm touches the lap, the child’s eyes close and as the arm then relaxes, so the rest of the body relaxes too.

It is useful to help the child along by feeding back what you visibly notice. Tell the child that you can see the arm moving and you can tell it is getting heavier for them. Encourage them and assure them that they are doing things well throughout.   

5. Finally, The Classic Progressive Relaxation Techniques:

This type of hypnotic induction is pretty much the same as you would do it with an adult. Although you may just need to make the language nice and child-friendly (especially if you like to be very anatomically correct with your progressive relaxation as you work your way through the body).

Most of the literature and experience of those working with a lot of children state that children tend to respond much quicker than adults to this type of process, so less time may be required with it when applying to children. Essentially, paying attention to the child and seeing what is happening for them will be the best way to gauge your pace of things. Too slow may result in a bored and thusly agitated child.

You simply spread the relaxation through the child’s body as a sensation, or a colour or in any other way that you have learned.

So as you can see, and as I mentioned right at the beginning, the inductions you use with children are pretty similar to those used with adults. They sometimes just require some simplification and tweaking to be made useable with a specific child.