Program Helps Children Be Calm, Confident by Lesley Solomon, L.P.C., Psychotherapist

Program Helps Children Be Calm, ConfidentIn adults, phobias, anxiety and other stress disorders can be brought under control through mind-body therapies such as guided imagery and biofeedback. But these disciplines require that the participant understand the connection between the mind and body so that they can use higher-order mental processes to gain control of emotional responses.

Children don't understand that their thoughts aff ect their bodies, their actions and behaviors. Social anxiety can become a chronic stomach ache each morning before school. Generalized anxiety can become the monster under the bed that sends them running to their parents' room each night. Children who are always angry have trouble making friends.

The GEMINI [Gentle relaxation exercises and mental imagery] program makes mind-body therapies available to children ages 6-12. It uses a combination of story telling, relaxation techniques and biofeedback-assisted relaxation training to give children tools to manage their internal states.

Over the course of seven 50-minute sessions, the program teaches a child about the mind-body connection and how their thoughts can aff ect their bodies and their health. It gives them the tools they need to:

  1. self-manage anxiety and worry
  2. self-regulate pain
  3. enhance self-mastery
  4. improve self-control

Story Telling

A core element of the program is a group of stories written by Dr. Linda Th ompson and Dr. Bob Boland (creators of the GEMINI program) about the fi ctional Ashland Zoo. The animals in the zoo have to cope with all sorts of physical and emotional problems and their stories unfold like fables which help guide a child to new ways of seeing themselves and the world around them. When a child is able to view a problem as happening to someone else, new possibilities for solutions evolve. They make unconscious connections with the personal relevance of the story.

Relaxation Exercise

In each story, an animal learns to use a relaxation technique to cope with a situation. Th rough the GEMINI program, the child learns how to use the same technique to master problems in their own life. They are led through an exercise using relaxation and imagery and can practice these new skills at home with the help of a CD.

Biofeedback-Assisted Relaxation Training

Mastery of the relaxation exercises is accelerated through biofeedback therapy.

The child learns how to relax by learning to change his/her physical response. The program has a special focus on learning to control stress, anxiety, reactivity and how to improve control over the physical manifestations of emotions. Biofeedback is a nonintrusive technique that uses a computer screen to show a child information about their

  • breathing
  • muscle tension
  • skin temperature
  • heart rate.

The child can watch as their thoughts and ability to relax alters the image on the screen. Th is feedback loop accelerates learning and makes it much easier to acquire the skills that will let children gain control of their thoughts and emotional responses.

The GEMINI program is available at the Tarnow Center.