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Heart-Centered Approaches in the Kindergarten Classroom.

ABSTRACT: A variety of adaptations of the techniques and processes used in Heart-Centered Therapies are readily adapted to working with groups of children in the primary school classroom. In this setting, they provide practical and effective resources for dealing both with children who are by way of their backgrounds counterprepared for functioning in a group, and with youngsters who are simply having a bad day. Implications for classroom management and for parenting are discussed.


Have you ever called the name of a child who is watching television or playing a computer game? If so, you may have noticed how difficult it can be to get their attention. The child is completely engrossed in what he/she is doing. Activities which involve fixing the eyes upon an apparently moving target have an hypnotic effect on anyone. Powerful enough among adults, this effect is particularly pronounced in children. It is unfortunately true that the practice of using the hypnotic effect of a cathode ray tube to manage children has permeated our culture. Most homes in North America have at least one television set. Many also have a computer. Parents commonly employ these machines to engage the attention of children while they occupy themselves with other tasks.

The natural capacity of children to seamlessly enter an hypnotic state can be used creatively by adults who care for them in groups, as in a classroom. Adaptations of hypnotic strategies are effectively applied to matters of "crowd control" as well as personal behavior, resulting in greater safety and fun for everyone involved. This article provides descriptions and discussion of some of the methods I have found useful in the Kindergarten and primary school classes I have been teaching for 15 years.


It should be stressed that for the purposes of this discussion, the term hypnotic applies to strategies I use which in general would not readily be (and indeed are not) recognized as hypnotic inductions by untrained adults in attendance. As such, they are more Ericksonian in nature (Erickson, 1948). Professional classroom teachers do well to avoid using obvious hypnotic induction scripts, in my opinion. These strategies are used in a manner which evokes from children cooperation, relaxation, emotional release, and imaginative play.

Our school serves a largely working class neighborhood located in the west end of a major Canadian city. For the most part, parents are interested in their children's success at school. Some children attend day care after school, while others are cared for by parents outside of school hours.

Five year old children are generally happy and enthusiastic about coming to school. One does well to employ teaching methods which preserve their joyful energy. School is a new experience for the vast majority of them, and they come to it with a widely variable range of skills for handling the many tasks it presents to them. For example, it is common for some children to become overly excited at any point during the process of coming into the classroom. There is an important transition for them to make as they come into class, marked by at least five separate, complex tasks. First, they line up outside the front door. Next, they come into the hallway, hopefully assuming appropriate indoor voices and physical demeanor. Once inside, they remove their boots. Then, they line up again. Finally, they walk down the hallway and enter the classroom in an orderly fashion. This is a lot to ask of a group of excitable youngsters, some of whom have never been in a group of children and/or away from their parents before. When all the students are gathered in the hallway, I ask them to raise their arms up and inhale cool blue air, and then slowly lower their arms as they exhale warm red air. We repeat this exercise three times. The usual outcome is that most of the students are relaxed and calm as we walk towards the classroom; making a successful transition from the outdoors.

During the course of a day's activities, the Kindergarten class often moves from one space to another. When we move into a traditional, highly structured classroom such as the computer laboratory, management is not typically much of a problem: the physical space itself dictates the activity in a way most children can easily grasp. However, when we move to a large open space such as the gymnasium or the playground, individual children can become so active as to interfere with planned group activities, and even compromise their safety or that of other students. When youngsters are encouraged to use their wonderful powers of creative imagination, their cooperation, success, and safety can better be assured. I have them sit quietly in the classroom while encouraging them to imagine going to the gymnasium (or wherever we are going). I show them the equipment we will be using, and while I explain the activity or game we will be playing, they naturally imagine taking part. Often enough, their imagination will be so stirred by this process that a child or two will engage in a fantasy play behavior which I can identify as being appropriate (or, gently identify as inappropriate) for the planned activity in the larger space, in the classroom where we are presently seated, or the like. In this way, the larger group gets the idea of what the planned activity requires of them. When they enter the larger space with a clear picture of the intended activity, more children succeed, have fun, and gain mastery.

The structure of the gymnasium lends itself to a variety of relaxation activities which exercise the creative imagination. It is a fairly large space, and is devoid of many of the distractions of the classroom. One of our favorite sequences involves using small individual mats. I teach the children to lay the mat down on the floor facing me. If they throw the mat, they can all start to get excited and want to slide around on them. Once the mat is on the floor, they lie on it, quiet and ready. I guide the children through some simple breathwork: I have them breathe, raising their arms over their heads, then straight outward, and then down at their sides. This way they can feel from where their breath originates. When their arms are at their sides, the origin of the breath is in the abdomen, at the level of the splenic chakra. When the arms are extended straight out, the origin of the breath is experienced at the diaphragm, at the level of the solar plexus chakra. When the arms are held over the head, the origin of the breath is experienced in the chest, at the level of the heart chakra. This simple technique, taken from the yoga tradition, is useful in bringing the energies into balance, and creating a space where the children are receptive to direction which encourages them to cooperate in creating a positive experience.

Once the children are comfortable and relaxed, they are guided towards visualizing that they are floating on a fluffy cloud, feeling the warmth of the sun. The smell of the fresh clean air is suggested, along with images of trees and birds. I remind them to keep their eyes closed. Then they do some long and skinny rolls (rolling slowly and gently with the arms extended over the head) and some short and fat rolls (rolling back and forth with the knees clasped to the chest) on their mat. After a week of individual work with these exercises, I pair up the students to roll on a longer mat. I have also taught my students to do the "rock and roll" yoga movement. This is good preparation to doing a back roll. Then they lay on their sides for some rest.

In the classroom, a number of strategies employed in Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy (Zimberoff and Hartman, 1998) are proving useful. For example, simply playing relaxing music (such as Pachabel's Canon, or some of the offerings from Windham Hill) while the children are working at quiet activities at the tables or eating their snack creates a peaceful space and a quiet mood. After a while the children spontaneously request favorite pieces of music when they need to calm down. When a child is having a bad day, rather than isolating or otherwise reprimanding them, I offer to play them their favorite quiet music so that they can be more comfortable. They visibly transform as they become more centered and grounded through the suggestion provided by the music, returning to the resource state anchored through repetition.

When Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy is employed, the therapist frequently uses a quiet, warm whisper. Hugs are also provided when acceptable to the client. These powerful techniques are readily employed with children, and are especially useful when children are in tantrum. A raging child is approached with a hug, and a voice dropped to the level of a whisper. The most frequent response is the calming of the child, who becomes attentive to the soft voice and the warm presence of the teacher. The other children experience the response to undesirable behavior as firmly guiding toward the right, without being coercive or punitive. They, too, come to direct quiet attention toward the troubled child. It is important to clarify that untoward behavior on the part of children decreases under this approach. That is, the quiet attention does not reward the abreaction; it simply guides it toward emotional release and peaceful outcome.

Placing the hands upon the heart center will frequently calm even deeply distressed or greatly excited children. One hand is placed on the heart center from the front, another from the back. Children are then encouraged to breathe deeply and comfortably, to relax. Their attention is brought to the beating of their heart. They are guided into counting to 20 in their heads, or internally reciting the alphabet. I am consistently impressed at how universally children seem to benefit from these simple meditative techniques. Their typical response is rapid and beneficial.

Another situation where children can become overly excited at the expense of effective function is when they are painting. I encourage them to close their eyes and imagine what it is they wish to paint. They are also guided through painting the image in their mind's eye, through cleaning up after themselves and putting their brushes away. Following this, they procede to do their painting project. The most common outcome is that they approach their painting in a more practical and effective manner. They are more satisfied with their work when they are finished.

When children are angry and aggressive, the carpentry center can be used in a way which mirrors the emotional release process of the Heart-Centered Therapies. The child is encouraged to hammer some nails into a board, or just to hammer on a board without using nails. The natural tendency of children to find the healing impact of an activity is often powerfully evident with this technique: children pound the board for a while, and return to the classroom more centered and present.

Variants of Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy are also useful working with younger clients in individual therapy. It is usually unnecessary to employ a formal hypnotic induction. Children in individual therapy often fall silent, and stare off into space. With some soft music playing, this response tendency is often strengthened. The therapist does well to gently ask the child what she/he is imagining, and to continue as if the child were involved in a hypnotic process. The outcome is frequently indistinguishable from that obtained with cooperative adults following a full induction and eye closure.


It is widely accepted that there exists a subpopulation of school-aged children who do not prosper in the traditional classroom setting. I have been working in primary education over the past fifteen years, largely with entry-level (that is, Kindergarten) children. I believe that an important cause of failure to function in the classroom setting can be sharply mitigated through providing a positive and warm environment where entry-level students can discover the demand characteristics of the educational setting without being shamed or singled out for negative attention when they fail to meet those demands. My experience in the school setting has convinced me that Heart-Centered therapeutic approaches provide a rich resource to anyone working: with children in groups.

It is truly wonderful to see excitable young children come to succeed in tasks requiring subjugation of impulse without having their spirits broken. It is also gratifying to remain centered as a teacher while drawing from youngsters their own wisdom. Using the tools of the Heart-Centered therapist, the teacher sees the behaviors children need for success in the classroom setting simply emerging from the children. These behaviors come into being, not through inhibition or suppression or repression of interfering impulses, but rather through the release of the emotional energy which otherwise causes untoward behavior to persist. As a result of the emotional release, behaviors and attitudes consistent with effective cooperative function within a group naturally emerge.

I expect that similar applications of Heart-Centered processes would of course prove useful in parenting, and in other situations where smaller groups of children are nurtured. Processing the release and resolution of emotional issues in the context of loving support creates a classroom environment quite distinct from the traditional atmosphere of discipline and conformity. Bringing the same processes into the family environment would be expected to create an atmosphere substantially different from that found in homes where, through appliances purchased by their parents in the interests of entertainment, western corporate interests suggest to children the values and attitudes of :materialism. Ultimately, evidence concerning Heart-Centered approaches to parenting will become available, and hopefully will be published.


Erickson, M. H. (1948/1980). Hypnotic psychotherapy. In E. Rossi (Ed.). The Collected Works of Milton H. Erickson on Hypnosis. I. The Nature of Hypnosis and Suggestion (pp. 35-48). New York: Irvington.

Zimberoff, D., & Hartman, D. (1998). The Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy modality defined. Journal of Heart-Centered Therapies 1 (1): 3-49.

Michelle Lacoursiere-Sussman Psychological Services, Suite 2707--Toronto Dominion Tower, Edmonton Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5J 2Z1.
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Author:Lacoursiere-Sussman, Michelle
Publication:Journal of Heart Centered Therapies
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 1999
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