Psychologist Margaret Holland asked her audience of colleagues, educators and health professionals to suggest coping mechanisms "when something upset you." This is the list that grew one by one:
Anger. Withdrawal. Walking out. Ignoring. Drugs. Complaints. Blaming. Sexual Release. Alcohol. Crying. Daydreaming. Breaking things. Drinking. lying. Door-slamming. Fighting. Cursing. Talking it out.
Then she asked: How many are available to children?
"An open display of anger is often considered unacceptable for kids. Teachers may be angry at a pupil, but kids do not have the right to be angry at the teacher.
"Think about withdrawal or walking out. As an adult I can usually get up and walk out of a classroom or somehow get out of that pressure-packed stressful kind of situation. How often do kids have the freedom.
"People say daydreaming is therapeutic and productive, but how often are kids called down for using that in a classroom?
"Any of us can go into a physician's office and say 'oh, I'm really upset and nervous' and come out with a Valium prescription. Where do kids get drugs?"
Cursing? "They know all the words, but what happens when they use them?"
Door slamming? Lying? Fighting? Ans so on.
"Look," Dr. Holland said, "how severely kids are punished for using some of the same coping mechanisms that are available to us. They just don't have the options."
Margaret Holland, who practices and teaches at the University of South Florida, was in Washington recently to talk about the stresses of children and ways to help them cope. She and her partner, Elizabeth Stroebel, a teacher from Hartford, Conn., now specializing in teaching emotionally disturbed children, conducted a Proseminar Institute Workshop on a new way of defeating disabling stress in the classroom.
It's "Kiddie QR," the children's version of a technique devised by psychiatrist/physiologist Dr. Charles Strobel, head of research for the Institute of Living in Hartford , to help transfer into everyday life self-regulation skills leaned through biofeedback therapy. Elizabeth Strobel, his wife, and Margaret Holland have adapted its use with children and adolescents without the use of biofeedback equipment.
There are currently 40-plus reseach projects underway in various parts of the country, applying QR to what psychologists call "special populations" of children. Among them are those with cerebral palsy, paraplegics, quadraplegics, and even a group with a terminally-ill parent.
As therapy or technique, Kiddie QR, the Quieting Response (or Reflex) for children has the same physiological basis as for adults: It is a step-by-step undoing-in six seconds -- of the body's inappropriate emergency response as described by Dr. Walter (fight-or-fight) Cannon and refined by Dr. Hans Selve in his General Adaption Syndrome.
But for children, especially the young ones, it is also a primer in body functions. They become aware of how their jaws clench, their tongues and shoulders tighten, their fists clench, their breath catches. They learn and "love to repeat," says Elizabeth Stroebel, words like "adaptive homeostasis," which they grasp conceptually as well a -- or better than some -- adults as a balance in the body. Or as one child put it, "my very own good feeling self." b
Younger children learn about such metaphorical "body friends" as "little fish" (limp jaw), QR and rigid robot, a tense-and-relax contrast, finger houses (for breathing and warmth), fighty fists (faulty bracing).
Children catch onto the technique in a matter of days. (It can take adults half a year or more.) They eventually learn the steps -- cued by fear, worry, anger or pressure of some sort -- as a reflex to undo the inappropriate response before it becomes a way of life. After the cue comes the "sparkle" smile, then quiet, easy inhaling through "magic breathing holes" in the feet, and finally, a feeling of flowing warmth as the breath goes out and, simultaneously, jaw, tongue, shoulders, body muscles go limp. All in six seconds.
In older children it is being taught as a counter-device for so-called "test anxiety." It should enhance learning, of course. But best of all, it could raise a new generation immune to that sabertooth tiger -- stress -- stalking us all.