Krickett’s Blog

Krickett’s Blog – Krickett Jones Halpern shares stories from her classrooms to illustrate the value of her techniques with Drum to LEARN, Inc. and in our art workshops with the m.a.r.y. foundation.

 Overcoming Fears – one lesson at a time…

At the end of each classroom session, I go around to each child and tell them what a great job they did that day and put a colorful stamp on their hand. Except for Mary. At the end of the sixth session with this particular class of two-year-olds, I noticed that Mary was still terrified of getting a stamp on her hand. I had not seen much change in her feelings about this over the weeks, so I asked her teachers if they knew why she reacted to the rubber stamp with so much fear. All they could tell me was that her mom told them that she doesn’t like getting her hand stamped.

Now by the seventh session, this was not good enough for me. I asked Mary’s mom to tell me her story. Apparently, it all stemmed from an incident with her ballet teacher, who also used a rubber stamp. After getting her one hand stamped, Mary had excitedly turned to go show her mother, when the ballet teacher abruptly grabbed her and pulled her back to put a stamp on her other hand. It seemed that all of Mary’s anxiety came as a result of being startled and “man-handled” by this teacher. Don’t underestimate the power of a seemingly “minor” incident to impact a young child’s psyche. Unknowingly, this teacher scared poor little Mary, and Mary associated “fright” with the rubber stamp.

Knowing what caused the “trauma” and understanding Mary’s personality, I came up with a game plan to help guide her to empowerment, to build up her sense of agency, i.e., the knowledge that she is in control of her actions and feelings. I also helped her mom with some open-ended dialogue to share with Mary when they could talk about it some more.

My plan was to prepare Mary ahead of time with short dialogue to help her to build up her own resilience. Before the drum circle started I reminded Mary that I would be giving all of the children a hand stamp at the end of class. She was sitting next to me as I opened the box with the stamp in it, and she cringed just to watch me. Through a bit more dialogue, I made her aware of the situation and helped her to handle it. This was about more than just getting her hand stamped; it was about overcoming a fear. Because I had appropriately “introduced” her to the subject of hand-stamping earlier, when drum circle was finally over and I asked her if she would like a stamp, she did not cringe with her whole being. She simply said, “No, thank you,” as I had explained to her that she could. Then I smiled and said, “Maybe next time.” She repeated, “Maybe next time,” and smiled back.

This may not seem like a big deal, but in the eyes of a child this is a huge triumph. She will remember this feeling the next time we have drum circle, and in other circumstances when she encounters a feeling of anxiety. Since our brains build on what is previously learned, she will remember this feeling of autonomy and empowerment, and know that it’s okay to say “No, thank you.”

By guiding her awareness with short dialogue and encouraging her to express herself, she now feels a bit more competent and capable. With a little bit of encouragement, this self-confidence will continue to grow. Mary is only two years old and I am so proud of her!

Since this early encounter, Mary is much less anxious when the time for hand stamping comes around. And just the other day, when she saw me across the schoolyard, she smiled and hollered out, “No, thank you!” I smiled and replied, “Maybe next time!”