Listen to the language of your young clients. Learn the names and nature of the games they play, discover their favorite TV characters, listen to the ways they communicate with their parents, and hear the language they use in relating conversations with other kids, because joining them in their world—even just a little—can go a long way.
One of my passions is travel, and when I travel into a new country I attempt to learn some of the basics of the language, exchange simple greetings, and pick up courtesies, like "thank you." Though I may be a long way from being fluent, even the process of seeking to join people in their own language and learn a little from them can help break down barriers, establish rapport, and enhance communication. Similarly, with children and adolescents, a small effort to join with the content and style of their communication can make a big impact on their feelings of being valued and being taken seriously. Incorporating that into your metaphors will enhance acceptance of the story, and its therapeutic message.
School psychologist Tracey Weatherilt (2003, in personal correspondence), sums up the need to join the individual child with what she calls a "note of warning." She says,
Depending on the child's age, cognitive development and maturity, metaphor maybe lost on the child if made too complex or subtle. Although appearing to make an obvious point, metaphors and stories need to be fairly explicit and draw a clear line to the targeted subject or behavior you want to work on with the child. It is also necessary to use material familiar to children. This may mean that therapists need to keep abreast of the trends and popular culture in children's lives, particularly when working with older children (e.g., popular television shows, computer games, and SMS text messaging language at the various age levels). Using current popular culture concepts and language also increases the likelihood of the therapist building a good connection to the child client.
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