An eight-year-old constantly says some version of, “Nobody likes me. I’m no good. Nobody wants to play with me. I can’t do anything right.”
First of all, arrange both your attitude and the physical environment of the therapy room so that he cannot do anything wrong. (This means it’s okay if something gets broken, and no judgment from you.) Even though you might really rather begin by teaching him alternative ways to think about himself, start by going with his process. Join him.
Tell parallel stories.
“I knew this fellow once who couldn’t do anything right and …”
Accept and encourage his need to explore the part of him that may not be acceptable to other people.
Since he is complaining, invite him to complain more.
Assist him to celebrate the unlikeable, alone part of himself. Suggest he represent the Part-That-No-One-Likes by drawing it or sculpting it. He might have fantasies where he is the king of the world and stomps everybody.
Suggest he work with that part in imagery.
Invite him to interact physically with that part . He might talk to it, teach it, yell at it, tear it up, or even kill it.
Okay, he got his anger out and the thing is dead. Now what?
Say, “Okay, you got your anger out and the thing is dead. Now what?”
Trust him. Stay curious and loving. Let him decide what’s next. His psyche will lead him where he needs to go.
Should he start in again about the part of him that nobody likes, say:
“Oh oh, he’s baaack. He didn’t stay dead. How would you like to get rid of him this time?”
Whatever he does, invite him do it more and connect with himself while he does it.
He draws guns all around himself.
Again, trust his ongoing process. Invite him to do more of what he is doing.
“Hmmn, I see an inch there on the paper that doesn’t have a gun. Does he need one there too? His eyes are showing, how about guns coming out of his eyes, and while you’re at it, how about his nose, ears and mouth too? His hairs are poison darts, how about poison gas that comes out of his pores? Are the bottoms of his feet protected too?”
Keep supporting the negativity until he indicates, “That’s enough.”
So what should he do then?
There are no “shoulds.” Trust yourself. Use your question as an intervention.
Say, “I wonder what you’ll do now?”
He’d say, “Shoot everybody.”
Okay. Say, “Oh. I’ll watch.”
Later, after everybody on the planet has been shot and perhaps shot again, continue to encourage the intensity.
“How about shooting the animals too?”
He’d say, “No, they’re nice. I wanna pet the dog.”
Since you do not have an investment in whether he shoots the animals or not, move in this new direction.
You: I wonder how you’re going to pet the dog since you’re covered with guns.
Him: I guess I don’t need the guns on my hands anymore.
Viola! There is an ever so slight change in behavior. He is connecting in different way.
Invite him to speak from the part of him who does not agree that he is no good.
Invite him to speak from the point of view of the dog.
Does an eight-year-old understand that?
Use puppets, role play, or fantasy. Verbalize the dog’s part a time or two to teach him the types of phrases that might go with another stance. Let go of any need you have that he will understand. He will learn what he needs to know about it. What if he won’t cooperate?
Say, “You don’t want to do that right now. Oh. I wonder what you’re going to do instead.”
It is not important that he do what you suggest. It is important only that you invite him. Focus on how he responds to your invitation. Notice and validate everything he says and does. By your actions, give the underlying message that you think he is okay to play with.