Last year my granddaughter, Crystal, went to Kindergarten. Her first day at school was also her first soccer practice, which took place a few hours later at the school's playground. She was already on sensory - or new people and place - overload when we walked across the street from my house to the school to meet her coach and her team mates.
Most of the other girls were taking this first practice in stride, playing on the grass or playground equipment and happily waiting for the instruction to begin. The coach and his assistant each had a little girl on the team. They started the girls playing a chase game and generally getting to know each other. Gradually they stared giving some rudimentary instruction.
Crystal is a child who likes to observe from the sidelines for a while before joining in, but this just didn’t seem to be an option. The other girls listened and responded to what the coach told them to do. But Crystal kept looking over at me and her mother and waving, as she jumped up and down and shot her hands into the air above her head. The coach noticed this jumping behavior and tried to engage Crystal's attention, but she would not/could not listen to him at all. She had no idea what she was supposed to do or where she was supposed to go. She looked happy enough - for a jumping bean.
I particularly noted the way her hands shot into the air above her head, fingers splayed open, as if she was a conduit for some sort of electric charge. I had observed this behavior before when she was excited about something and wanted to get my attention, but never to this extreme. Months later I shared this behavior with my cousin, Marcia, who is a Healing Touch Therapist. She told me that Crystal needed to know she was safe; that when she displayed this behavior she was trying to discharge the extra energy coursing through her body caused by the fear of a new situation and the inability to manage and control her world.
The other girls seemed more at peace with this situation, more able to take in the instruction and practice the new skills being taught. Crystal was just too overwhelmed to take in anything the coach said. Her need to stay on the sidelines was something we should have supported instead of encouraging her to join in and participate with the other girls. I had to struggle with my own need to have her be like everyone else, instead of the unique and special and sensitive child that she was.
Her first game took place on the following Saturday. Crystal and her parents and younger brother, along with two sets of grandparents dutifully reported to the soccer fields. She was dressed in her uniform and very excited to play, until she arrived at the park and saw all the other – 100’s – children there. She had been practicing at her elementary school’s playground. Now she was at the official soccer fields – all 30+ of them. No one had thought to prepare her for the crowds of players and parents and refs and coaches. She looked around and promptly hid in her mother’s lap. No amount of coaxing from her family or her coaches or her team mates would induce her to go out on the field.
We wisely let her stay in her mother’s lap, but we did not leave until the game was over. Now she knew what to expect. The next week we took her to soccer practice at her school as if nothing had happened. She began to participate more, but still was unable to listen to the coach when he would teach the girls to play a certain skill-building game. He learned to get down at her level and talk directly to her over time. When we arrived at the soccer field the next Saturday, she was able to play in the game.
By her third game she actually scored a goal! Her spontaneous celebration – leaping with both hands high in the air over and over – is legendary and unique among all the girls. Her coach says it was “worth the price of admission”. This time the hands in the air seemed to say, “Hurray for me!”
Now we are all more sensitive to Crystal’s own unique needs to feel safe and secure in new situations. My cousin (the Healing Touch Therapist) has taught me to say either directly or telepathically, “You are safe. I will keep you safe. I am here to help and support you." Recently I went to the park with Crystal. She would run around and play on the slide or climbing apparatus, then come running over to stand in front of me. "You are safe," I told her. "I will keep you safe." Then off she would run to play again.