As SLPs we often have students who are dealing with sadness, whether it is the loss of a parent,
being shunned by "friends," or family/economic concerns. We may find ourselves in positions to help assuage that sadness. As I shared my loved one's sadness I thought about my responsibility to my students' sadness over the years and I've learned a thing or two.
Be sensitive to my own emotional responses.
When hearing of a student's trauma, my first response is, well, to respond emotionally. I feel anger, sadness, disbelief, anxiety. I have to remember to keep my own emotions in check. If not, I could foment my student's response and that is not helpful. I need to be present, to be a compassionate listener.
Practice the "art of the pause."
When confronted with a child's distress (or any difficult matter) I have adopted what I call the "art of the pause." I need to remind myself to stop and assess the stage and take in the circumstances. Pausing allows the rational mind to get footing and prevents responses that may be regretted later.
Be mindful of trust.
The fact that a friend, colleague, parent, or child has confided in me can be a source of comfort and a source of anxiety. Having information that has been shared in confidence can be burdensome. It is a blessing that the child trusts you with their secret, but it also presents challenges if I am called to seek help for the child. I am always forthright with students and tell them I may not be able to keep their confidence. Often these children find it difficult to trust adults, the last thing I want to do is give them more reason to doubt. Expressing at the outset, that the information may need to be passed on, gives a child the power to share or not share. It establishes an honest relationship.
I don't need to solve the problem.
Another of my knee jerk reactions, is to try and solve the problem. This is frequently not possible and leads to my own place of paralysis and frustration. I need to be cognizant of my role. My student doesn't necessarily need me to solve the problem. It serves us both better if I can be a sympathetic and compassionate source of support.
Make a realistic assessment of my role.
Do I need to take action to help my student? There may be instances where steps are needed to help a child. Be realistic and cautious when discerning how to proceed. I always assess whether this is a place I should be involved and if not, who can I enlist to help the student?
Recognize the need for help.
Some situations require a larger team. If I think more professional help is needed, whether it's administration, a psychologist, or law enforcement, seek it. Being cautious not to betray a child's trust, get counsel from others if necessary. In the end, the child may feel more supported knowing there is a constellation of others who can help.
Be wary of judging.
Being present for a child during times of sadness takes an emotional toll, as we know. Said toll leaves us wide open for passing judgment on those who caused the sadness. When my loved one was hurt, I most definitely passed judgment. I was angry and wanted to go to bat for her. That would have been a mistake. I always need to understand, I can only guess what the motivation of the other person might have been. It serves all involved well, if I try to remain nonjudgmental.
I have learned a lot about myself and my empathy can lead to considerable anxiety. I need to do whatever it takes to keep myself grounded when helping others cope. For me, I stay active. I have been known to clean for hours. I mean really clean, deep clean. It seems a metaphor for what I am feeling. Exercise is key and includes real sweat inducing exercise to yoga. Journaling is extraordinarily helpful in putting things in perspective. It is both cathartic and healing. Art, in whatever form is a wonderful distraction. Lastly, and for me the most helpful, prayer. Prayer for myself, that I will be a source of comfort, prayer for the child that she may find healing, and prayer for the source of the child's angst. My greatest prayer is that we all trust in God's providence.
It is so hard to see others in pain, but we can be a source of comfort and healing for all involved. It has always helped me and the one I seek to comfort if I remain observant to my own understanding of what healthy compassion looks like and how to exercise it.