Learning to Tap
Away Stress, Anger
Since discovering the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a self-soothing method that involves tapping on areas of the body while thinking positive thoughts, psychologist Dr. Lynne Namka has been spreading the word about it. In Namka's new book, Good Bye Ouchies and Grouchies, Hello Happy Feelings, Namka describes how teachers and parents can use EFT to help children release unhappy feelings. Included: Descriptions of how to use EFT.
Imagine your stress level rising, or having a problem nag at you, and being able to ease your anxiety and relax just by tapping your fingers lightly on areas of the body. That's the thrust of a relaxation approach called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) outlined in Good Bye Ouchies and Grouchies, Hello Happy Feelings by psychologist Dr. Lynne Namka. Teachers can use EFT with their classes to help students let go of their worries and release tension in a positive way.
Namka is president of Talk, Trust and Feel Therapeutics, which provides toys and books to help parents, teachers, and therapists teach children ways to express uncomfortable feelings, take responsibility for their own behavior, and learn positive social skills. More information for children and families about dealing with anger is available at Angries Out.
Namka recently talked with Education World about how teachers can use her book and EFT in their classes.
|Dr. Lynne Namka|
Education World: You obviously are very enthusiastic about the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). What about it appeals to you so much?
Dr. Lynne Namka: EFT draws on much from what we already know about what works in psychology, such as helping people deal with errors in thinking and with processing strong emotions regarding events they could not control. EFT adds self-applied acupressure and addressing emotions to the cognitive behavioral approach, which is the current popular approach among psychologists. Some people do not want to hang on to their negative emotions and problems, but they don't know how to let them go. EFT combines three approaches to promoting positive change by working with inappropriate thoughts, negative emotions, and relaxation.
With so many problems in the world, we don't have the luxury to allow people to sit and talk about each of their problems ad infinitum. In this age of technology, we seek faster solutions that work at greater depth. So, I see EFT as the most efficient approach to helping children and adults with their problems.
EW: How is EFT different from other approaches that teach children or adults how to relieve stress?
Namka: EFT provides a quick method of helping children relax through self acupressure, and it addresses the shame or fear of being a bad person that underlies many children's problems. EFT uses a start-up statement that expresses ownership of the problem and forgives oneself for having the problem. The first part of the start-up statement asks the child to take responsibility for the problem, the second part reminds the child that he or she still is a good kid. For some children who feel so bad inside, that knowledge is a great relief.
An example is the 4-year-old boy who could say with my prompting, "Even though I put my little sister's hand in the piranha tank, I'm still a good kid." And he was. (His sister was not harmed.) The boy just had a moment of jealousy and immaturity during which he made a very bad decision. His one impulsive, inappropriate act, and the resulting parental horror and anger, could have scarred him for life. After using EFT tapping to release guilt and shame, however, he could talk about his anger at his sister and decide that there were better things he could do when he felt jealous.
EW: What kind of work do you do with schools?
Namka: Well, having been a classroom teacher in the past, and having parents and 11 aunts and uncles who were teachers, I'm a teacher at heart. I consult with teachers about the children I see in my practice. Today's teachers are pretty savvy, but due to their higher level of anger and hopelessness, some of todays children are more complex. The teachers and I put our heads together to try to figure out how to help the child. Some schools provide workshops on EFT for their staff and for the entire school.
EW: How can teachers use Good Bye Ouchies and Grouchies in their classrooms?
Namka: Teachers can read the book out loud, a few pages at a time, and have the children tap on the phrases and ideas they are given to release unhappy feelings. For example, most children can identify with times they felt ashamed; got a kick out of teasing someone; didn't want to do their chores or homework; or felt scared. Guidance counselors can use the book as a springboard to help children talk about their problems. The book shows children that others have felt the same way and that EFT is a simple, handy way to let things go and return to a state of calm. Children are great little problem solvers and they feel such relief when someone shows them what to do!
One teacher uses EFT with the children as self-acupressure, saying, "Now we are going to make our faces happy." The children tap on the acupressure points on their faces and do some breathing techniques. As they tap, the children think of anything that makes them feel stressed, sad, mad, or bad. No one shares out loud -- they just think about the things they feel upset about. As they focus, accept that they are normal for having bad feelings, and do the self-acupressure, the children relax and their unruly emotions dissipate. The result? Happy faces!
EW: How can EFT improve students' academic performance and behavior?
Namka: Children can become frustrated when they feel stressed learning a new concept or when they have to do hard work. They say to themselves, "This is hard. I'm not good at this. I don't want to do ..." They talk themselves out of continuing to try because they start to hurt somewhere. Stomachaches, headaches, and muscle tension accompany those negative statements, causing them to avoid doing [something like] their homework. That mixture of negative cognitive beliefs and body reactions that add up to stress and avoidance of the task is called learned helplessness.
In the book, I discuss helping children address their "Loser Thoughts" and the "I Don't Want To" parts of their personality that create avoidance of work. The book shows children how negative thoughts contribute to body tension and the desire to escape from the work. Then I focus on the fact that jobs have to be done and that their job is to learn and get their homework done. The thoughts and body reactions of learned helplessness can be released with EFT, so they can become relaxed, motivated workers and learners. I conclude [in the book] with "Helper Words:" positive statements that help children be resilient and feel good about staying on task as positive learners. That is called Learned Optimism.
EW: How can children learn to distinguish between a problem that can be addressed with tapping and one that requires more intervention? For example, a bullied child may feel better when tapping, but the tapping will not solve the problem of being verbally and physically harassed.
Namka: Children can learn that they are responsible for their own feelings about what happens to them. My book notes that some problems cannot be solved with just EFT. Some problems need to be talked about with safe adults. At times, an environment that is allowing harm needs to be changed.
In my opinion, schools need to be responsible for ongoing issues of bullying and harassment. Most schools are in the process of implementing district-wide programs to decrease bullying. However, children who are doing the bullying also need to be understood, not just punished or suspended. I agree that strong measures are needed to send a message to the bully that the behavior is not acceptable, but the child who bullies others is crying out for help.
Recently, I talked with a frustrated teacher about a suspended 5-year-old, who laughed as he hit and tripped others and talked back to the teacher. We identified his feeling good about hurting others as a cognitive error in thinking that resulted from not feeling loved at home and roughhousing with his older brother. Instead of being a learner, his self-esteem was invested in shoving and fighting.
EFT is not the total answer for him. We are addressing his impulse control problems, and I have him talking with his parents about feeling unloved and they are working that out. We do EFT to release his belief about his inappropriate association of feeling good and acting out. The teacher and I both give him the message that "It is not okay to feel good by hurting others." In that way, we are circumventing his bullying behavior and increasing his self-esteem.
EW: Do you think children today have a greater need for self-soothing? Why?
Namka: Parents are stressed today. Children pick up the tension in the home. Family life is becoming more frenetic, with parents feeling more stress due to job loss or downsizing, in which the expectation is that the remaining workers will pick up the slack and do more work. Advertising and the push to purchase products or junk food to create a sense of temporary well-being add to the stressors of modern life. Additionally, we have the problem of different ideologies battling it out in the media.
Today's children are angry and they are acting it out at a much earlier age. They want to feel good, but don't know what to do. One 12-year-old girl told me she had a bad day at school so she snuck a cigarette from her mom's purse to deal with her bad feelings. This is the beginning of addiction -- trying to find something outside the self to feel good. In my opinion, children need to learn self-soothing techniques early in life, before the tensions and negative emotions build up. EFT provides an easy, always handy, quick technique to release stress.
This e-interview with Dr. Lynne Namka is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Copyright © 2003 Education World