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  • Writer's pictureTamsin Hartley

'Locked up' in lockdown

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

Over the past few months of lockdown, parents across the world have had to take on the role of teacher as they home-school their children. This new role has brought both its rewards and its challenges. Some have enjoyed a slower pace of life and a break in the school routine. But there have also been moments of frustration and frayed tempers – for parent and child alike!

During a recent Listening Space course, a mother of two young children described how Clean questions gave her a way to reconnect with her five-year-old daughter, Tiana, after one such emotional outburst. She was both surprised and amazed by the impact these questions had.

What follows is taken from an interview in which I asked her to tell me more about what had happened.

Me: You mentioned how you had used Clean questions with your daughter during the week.

Femi: Yes. Tiana gets very locked up when it comes to emotions – although she is very expressive in other ways.

Me: What kind of locked up?

Femi: Frozen. She can’t express the emotion she has. She suddenly goes within herself, into her shell. Her whole body language changes. And if I say, ‘What’s wrong? Are you feeling angry?’, she can’t put it into words.

Last week I was helping her with her maths. She absolutely hates being told how to do something. So I have to tread a fine line between helping a little bit and making it feel like I’ve not actually helped her. But, unfortunately, there are right and wrong answers when it comes to maths.

She got a sum wrong and I said, ‘Oh, you nearly got that one right.’

Saying that it wasn’t quite right put her into a rage and she ran out of the room. I went and found her on the sofa in the living room, curled up in a ball.

I asked her, ‘What are you feeling?’, and for a while there was nothing.

She finally said, ‘I’m feeling angry.’ Sometimes she can label her feelings but she can’t really do more than that.

So, I said:

  • What kind of angry?

There wasn’t much of an answer, so I went straight to the other questions we’d learnt on the course:

  • Whereabouts is angry?

That was when something got turned on and she answered, ‘It’s behind my eyes.’

I was so surprised. She went from I can’t talk about this to I really want to talk about this. That’s what was so cool.

So, I asked the some more questions:

  • Does it have a size or a shape?

  • And does it have a colour?

And she said, ‘Yeah. It’s like white lightning behind my eyes. And it's pulsing.’

  • And does it have a sound?

She made this noise, ‘Uh, uh, uh, uh.’

I moved through these questions really quickly and asked her if she wanted to draw it. She literally ran out of the room and went to get her felt tips.

Suddenly she was in her own world drawing. She drew two bolts of lightning behind her eyes and two circles with the word ‘BOOM’ inside each. And then two sad faces. I don’t know why it was two of everything. It was almost like two eyes behind two eyes.

It all just came out. And she seemed so much happier to have done it. We could then just talk about what had just happened.

I was able to ask her, ‘How do you want it to be different?’

And she said, ‘Just don’t tell me. Don’t give me the answer.’

We didn’t come to a perfect solution because there will still be times when I need to give her the answer. But we were able to talk about it, which was the important thing.

She said, ‘Mummy I just really, really, really want to be able to do it on my own. And I hate it when you try and help me. Please just let work it out on my own.’

That was what she had needed to express to me but hadn’t been able to.

I said, ‘If I let you work it all out on your own how would you feel?’

She drew a massive heart. And gave me a massive hug. And that was it.

It felt like we came to such a good resolution and the whole thing only took about four minutes maximum. It unlocked her. And hopefully if we can do that a bit more, it will give her a way to know how she can get into her body more quickly – to understand what is happening for her.

I thought she would be resistant to answering the questions. And I didn’t expect these questions to work in the way that they did. It felt really powerful.

The way it worked felt quite pure. And simple.

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