Compassionate Inquiry with Children and Teens

By Teri Potter

As parents, coaches and fellow therapists, our group meets once a month to understand how Compassionate Inquiry might be used with young people in mind. During our meetings we work through the CI modules and explore the possibilities for each quality, skill and stepping stone, looking at how they pertain to our work with children and teenagers.

We recently met and discussed ‘Triggers, Pain and Shame.’ This topic inspired a passion in each of us to hone our skills around attunement and connection with the younger generation. Collectively we acknowledged how rewarding it was to share tools that could disrupt developing patterns of shame early on in young people’s lives, and so liberate them from its grip. We can do this by guiding them to recognise how reconnecting to their own true feelings is more important than focusing on the ‘story’ (their perception or interpretation) of their situation. Where we, as ‘grown-ups,’ have amassed many decades of cemented conditioning that we must break through, they are nearer the starting post and so closer to their essential nature, offering an easier journey back to trusting their own innate wisdom.

In addition to this we discussed, as coaches and therapists in particular, the importance of being free from our own concerns, interpretations or projections when working with these youngsters. We recognise that if a young person is expressing anger, extreme anxiety, or even suicidal ideas, and they sense a bias in us, even unconsciously, then those tender, emerging parts will most likely retreat into hiding, buried in shame, bound to erupt at a later date, and in what is likely to be a much less safe container. We know that young people are hard-wired to unearth artifice so, when energy shifts because we, as confidants, feel uncomfortable, then it’s essential that we acknowledge it in the moment.

In this way we discussed how essential it is that the environment we create allows conversations where ALL parts are welcome. Only then can they acknowledge the louder part that is present in the moment, that’s here because it wants to feel better.

We agreed that unconditional acceptance and our attunement —without agenda— is actually a basic requirement for them to experience acceptance and for there to be any possibility of their authentic expression and integration. Therefore if we bring in any intention to ‘fix’ our clients, it can create the opposite effect we are trying to achieve. The work we do with young people largely hinges on this; by giving space for them to unfold and discharge some of the pain and anguish they are already carrying, we build a foundation of experiential understanding around the power of open communication with others.

It was clear to us all in the discussion that our task is largely to be ‘seed planters’ for children and young people, focusing on the long-term versus the short-term. It is harder for them to analyse and dissect situations (as adults might), so the priority becomes our own enthusiasm and curiosity for them, with us naturally reflecting back their words, ideas and beliefs, without embellishment, and clean of our own projections. All this to bring the vibration of trust and acceptance into the dynamic, in order to invite the possibility of them unfolding with us and reconnecting to their true selves.

Recently we have also been considering the implications of using CI to influence the younger generation’s healthy communication skills, and what impact that could have on family systems, educational settings, and the world at large. As we witness the world struggle with diverse viewpoints, it’s clearer than ever before how vital it is to develop empathy and engage in compassionate conversations. This is a time for contemplation about our individual and collective roles in nurturing relationships and fostering healing, that goes beyond geographical and cultural divides. This is especially the case for the most vulnerable ones in our midst; the children.

We can clearly see how Compassionate Inquiry may very often set the first example for children, of a safe opportunity to reconnect with their true selves, to shift their reference point to understand that they are worthy and deserve to be seen and heard. As a result of its capacity to reconnect young people with their inner wisdom and truth, CI offers an incredible opportunity for the next generation to re-assess some of the traditional paradigms of parenting, education and culture at large that encourage separation and isolation in society. What a privilege to be planting such seeds together.

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