Social Difficulties

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It is my understanding that the quality of one’s social integration is defined by the ability to integrate both verbal and non – verbal communication skills. More than once I have asked a child “how can you tell who is strong and who is weak in your class; who looks nice and who looks scary?” Most of the time children ‘know’, but can’t explain how they know. Most of the time, such questions puts them in touch with their own place in their social life. Most of the time this ’place’ isn’t a very good one. So they do know, somehow, who they need to look out for, and who is more comfortable to be around. My job is to help them understand the HOW and help them see how much choice they do have in their social life, in relation to the contact they make with others, or others make with them.

Why do children get bullied?

Being bullied is a horrible experience both for the child and his parents. Although each episode of bullying involves individual circumstances, over the years I have come across a number of children who as a result of exploration through body work, found out that they had a part, a passive part in that horrible experience.

I always wondered what it is about them, specifically. Is it something about them, or were they just in the wrong place at the wrong time? My karate teacher used to speak of a pond metaphor: “water will form a puddle where the land permits it by its shape”. Some areas on land ‘attract’ water to accumulate, while others are shaped as a hill, which deflects the water away. Could it be that in some cases what a child unconsciously radiates is: “I can be bullied….”?

If such a worrying statement applies – that the child, ‘creates’ a situation over and over again, then he deserves to understand HOW he does it, in order to change it. I am aware of the fact that in some cases it is not completely true, but most of the children I have come across, overcame such an unpleasant experience after they understood the part they played in their social interactions. They worked on changing their attitude and their physical presence, through developing their motor coordination to high functioning multitasking, along with strengthening their muscle tone and responsiveness. Some of the exercises used incorporate elements from martial arts and Gestalt therapy. As a result, children manage to relate to themselves in a completely different way. They develop their physical confidence and self esteem. They learn to understand about the dynamic of social interaction, especially in relation to HOW to avoid ‘attracting’ others who challenge them inappropriately.

The non-verbal social communication skills help us interact before – or instead of- talking. There is a universal, non-verbal code of communication; warm greetings, or hostile gestures are first being filtered by our survival mechanism at the back of our brain. Secondary interpretation takes place in the frontal lobes of the brain, where we explain to ourselves WHY we like or dislike a person. It is only at a later stage that we try, sometimes, to integrate the two, or look at the ongoing dynamic that has developed as a result of the interaction.

The brain in children with hyper – tactile sensitivity ,and/or various coordination difficulties, is sometimes slow to process input from the different sensors. Therefore, finding it hard to ‘read’ and react simultaneously to a situation they are in. I call such a condition ‘emotional dyslexia’. Unfortunately, some children with higher processing ability take advantage of the situation and bully them verbally for their slow comprehension, or physically for their slow or weak motor responses.

I have found that most children who complained about being bullied, had no idea of how weak their voice is, especially when they were asked to ‘role play’ assertive behaviour. In addition, in most of the situations the child struggles to make eye contact and/or be connected to his own sense of physicality/muscle tone.

For hyper tactile children the job of boundaries is harder to define, as the proprioceptive sensors, which define the body boundaries from inside, are being dominated by the tactile ones.

In my programme, I ‘role play’ the other child and reflect to the child with me the level of integration he has with his words; eye contact; tone of voice and muscle tone. I challenge the child to simply stay in one place and say ‘NO’ or ‘not interested’ to all my attempts to ‘invade’ his space passively, aggressively or manipulatively. Sounds easy? For some children and adults it’s a very challenging exercise. Where is their space? Why is it so hard to keep it?

As we start to explore that together, they clearly see how hard it is to maintain their place, which they have chosen to stand in. It’s not about me applying stronger physical pressure. It’s about showing them how there is no one behind the words they are saying, whilst I am trying to get into their spot.

Y is a boy of 10 who complained that the other boys were kicking him at break time. When I invited him to role play with me a situation at school, he first appeared assertive, made eye contact and his voice was clear. After a few seconds he was lying on the floor giggling with his legs in the air saying: “Don’t kick me”. I could understand why the children wanted to kick him. I explained to him that he creates a situation where other children can easily take advantage of him. After he strengthened his body, he could last a lot longer on his feet and reported that he does not know what happened, but he doesn’t get kicked any more.

The other thing we need to remember, which is not easy to contemplate, especially when you’re 10, is that although the attention Y got was very negative, the situation he was in fed on itself, and did serve his need to socialise.

Expansion radiates ‘size’

Some of the children that get picked on have poor posture, low muscular tone and soft or unclear voices. Exercising with elements from the martial arts allows them to ‘fill in’ their body, to experience the body’s muscular system, which directly impacts on the survival mechanism, so the child discovers how much safer it is to be at one with their body. Exercise maximises the distance between the vertebrae and creates a sensation of being bigger than the actual physical self. Such a wonderful experience radiates a different presence, which leads to positive reactions from the other kids.

For a child who was bullied to avoid now becoming the bully himself, once he gets to experience his strength, it is very important to get the balance right. He needs to remember that there is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive. It could be the difference between engaging in a negative interaction or avoiding it – staying on that hill, where the rain doesn’t accumulate, instead of becoming the rain itself.