'Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.'
I love this quote, as it reminds me of the power we each have to make choices. We can choose to take offence or we can choose to assume good intentions. We can choose to make the best of a challenging situation or we can choose to disengage and withdraw or lash out. Sometimes it may not feel like we have a choice, and indeed sometimes the available options are not ideal. We cannot choose life events, but we can choose how we respond to them.
As counsellors, we are in the fortunate position that we often have the opportunity to help students recognise the connection between events or a stimulus, and subsequent thoughts, feelings and actions. This is significant. If students can learn to pause and take a moment before speaking and doing, it can make all the difference. It can prevent further hurt and conflict, and lead to greater self-control and ultimately, contentment. Pausing allows us to gather our thoughts and our feelings, acknowledge them, and then mindfully choose the next steps. The key is pausing, taking time, walking away, saying 'let me think it over'. Obviously, this takes skill, perseverance and years of practice! But learning that our feelings, thoughts and behaviours are not dictated by actual events is an important life skill.
As parents and teachers, we can help children develop self-awareness. We do this by noticing and naming a child's feelings. 'I can see you're really upset about that'. Bringing attention to the feeling helps a child to feel understood and creates 'the space between stimulus and response'. It can be a circuit-breaker. Ultimately, the aim is that a child or young person can use his / her own strategies as 'circuit breakers'. Strategies such as taking 10 deep breaths, walking away, listening to a favourite piece of music, doing some yoga, or taking time to think through possible responses can be useful. Even very young children can learn to pause and focus on their breathing before acting. The practise of mindfulness, of being fully present right now, can help children and adults alike get out of 'automatic pilot' mode and act with intention.
This article was written by Ms Annie Butkus, Primary School Counsellor at PSI.