Why you need to prepare your child for dolphin assisted therapy
It is no secret that the child looks at this world in a special way. What the adult is already accustomed to, to the child may seem a real discovery. Each step, mechanical and routine, for a child can be a whole adventure. Remember yourself in your childhood – these jumps on colorful tiles of the sidewalk, castles made of cushions, passions worthy of George Martin’s pen boiling in the sandbox, and whole universes in the next book you read (heard).
According to some of our young guests, dolphin assisted therapy is somewhere “between riding a pony and flying into space.” We understand, of course, that this statement is devoid of any scientific value, but it also has a different meaning – to show dolphin assisted therapy through the eyes of a child.
There are so many things all at once: dolphins, and water, and new people and … dolphins again. Not like at home – unusual and sometimes scary. Images and events are woven into a tight ball and it is sometimes difficult to understand what thread you need to pull to unravel it.
In order to make everything that happens during the dolphin assisted therapy course to turn into an integral and organic canvas of memories, and not into a mishmash of “threads”, “twisted” in haste; in order for the child (and his parents) to complete the course of psychocorrection with positive and firm confidence in the future, it is necessary to make some efforts at all stages.
Preparing for a dolphin assisted therapy course is just as important, if not more so, than the sessions themselves. The way in which the child comes to the dolphinarium for the first time, the way he perceives the new situation and himself in it, affects both the initial adaptation and the effectiveness of the entire course of psychocorrection.
We are well aware that all children are different and each of them requires a special approach, especially since the vast majority of our young guests are children with a “special” attitude to the world and we ask to interpret this material as an “average” wish. Remember, if something does not work out for you, this does not mean that everything else will not work out and the results may surprise you, even if you did not count on them.
Adaptation is a natural process of accustomization to changing environmental conditions. Speaking about adaptation in the context of dolphin assisted therapy, we mean, first of all, the child’s ability to accept new conditions of interaction with the outside world, consisting in separation from parents for a short period of time, acquaintance with incomprehensible at first glance animals and the acquisition of new skills.
It can be divided into three components:
– primary contact or maladaptation (acquaintance, getting accustomed);
– contact or adaptation (game, interaction);
– secondary contact or compensation (transfer and consolidation of the learned skills to the familiar environment; memories).
We repeat: for each child, the adaptation process is individual and now we are considering a certain “averaged” version of the development of events during the sessions.
So with a ten-day course of psychocorrection, getting used to new conditions takes from one to three days, direct contact from four to eight days, and secondary contact (consolidation of acquired skills) falls on the last days of the course.
There are also extreme cases when a child from the first day is perfectly oriented in a new situation, or he cries during all ten sessions, being in a state of permanent stress. The main reason for the negative reaction, taking into account the peculiarities of the development of the child, is his poor preparedness for changing conditions. Let’s try to consider the most common stressful factors and ways to prepare the child for them.
Preparation for the depth
One of the most common problems that impede a child’s adaptation is his fear of depth. Very often, when parents say: “Our child is not afraid of water” or “he simply loves wate”, this does not correspond at all with the opinion and behavior of the child. As a rule, it is in such cases that we have to overcome certain difficulties when descending into the pool and swimming.
This is primarily due to the difference in perception of water by an adult and a child. He may not be afraid of water at home in the bathroom, in the usual shallow pool with a comfortable temperature or in the hands of an adult when swimming in the open water. For parents, all this falls into the category “not afraid of water”, and for a child, each water is different. And the temperature, and taste and sensations change from what kind of pond the child is in, and these changes can be purely subjective. At home, the water smells like strawberries and is felt through the touch of mom, in the pool the water smells of bleach and is perceived as a place where there is a lot of noise and you can’t run, and in the sea – the salty splashes of the waves are not terrible because a salty and reliable dad is nearby. And everywhere, we emphasize, everywhere the child has a solid support under his feet, which is difficult to feel hanging out at a height of five meters above the bottom in the hands of a stranger.
The child is afraid to drown, afraid of the salty splashes that fall on his face and are so unpleasant in taste, he is afraid that this will never end and he will stay here forever. And if his perceptual features are such that he does not see water in front of him? Seriously, have you thought about how children with autism perceive water? The psychologist dolphin therapist A. Zykov once remarked: a child with autism may not see the water, just not perceive it like you and me, and then he sees people and dolphins soaring meters above the ground; he is not afraid to drown – he is afraid to fall, because he has not yet drowned, but he has fallen.
Let’s think about what can be done so that the child is not afraid of water.
The first and most important thing is that the child should be gradually accustomed to the lack of the bottom underfoot. If for kids you can just get a little more water into the bathroom, then for older kids it is advisable to visit the pool with a gradual increase in depth, and if the weather allows, a sandbank on the river or sea shore is quite suitable. Of course, all this is under the control of adults.
The second thing is to teach a child to use sleeves, a vest or a rubber ring (it is advisable to specify in advance which of these is used in the dolphin assisted therapy department), to teach the elementary skill of maintaining balance in water and, ideally, a gradual increase in the distance between him and an adult. No one requires the child to swim like a gold medalist, no – he can spend the entire course of sessions in the hands of a psychologist and will not be worse from this, but it’s worth a try.
Thirdly – a gradual decrease in water temperature. Many parents may argue with me, but let’s imagine that we had been preparing for dolphin assisted therapy for six months, taught the child to swim, counted the days before meeting the dolphins, and as a result, the whole course breaks down because the pool water is 23-25 degrees and the child is freezing, no matter how many wetsuits are put on him. Consider lowering the water temperature as an element of hardening, especially since no one requires an instant result.
Fourthly – if it is possible, try to explain to the child why he keeps on the water and the importance of a closed mouth in the process of swimming. There are children who poorly control the swallowing reflex or do not know how to spit, well, it’s time to go to the store for the most salty mineral water and give such a child a spoon for “testing.” It is possible that he will learn to spit after that and his mouth will close tightly. Anyway – it’s impossible to teach a child to keep his mouth closed in water – teach him to puff out his cheeks.
Preparing to meet dolphins.
The next most common problem is the child’s misunderstanding and rejection of the dolphin.
That is true, it is not like us, it has no legs, no arms, a strange nose and mouth full of sharp teeth, and since it has teeth, he can bite very painfully. And how to stroke it when there is no fur unlike cats and dogs. Unpleasant in general. And if it’s unpleasant, it means it’s dangerous. Yes, and it is huge, almost as big as a horse.
During the preparation for meeting dolphins, you need to try to form the most positive image of a dolphin in the perception of a child.
If possible, try to use visual materials, photos and videos about dolphins, tell funny and kind stories, legends about them. It will be useful to go to a performance in which dolphins are directly involved or watch a recording of such performance.
Dolphins are unique creatures, and it is not always possible to approach them at arm’s length, to look into their kind brown eyes. But after all, with the majority of other animals the child first gets acquainted with the help of pictures.
The gradual and unhurried introduction of the child to the wonderful world of marine mammals, the formation of the image of a lifeguard, a game partner and a funny eccentric who is as kind and good as a child, just does not look like him, will help not only to get to know dolphins easier, but also to better understand himself, because many of us are also different from others.
One of the ways to prepare a child for communication with dolphins could be horse riding or hippotherapy and contact with a big kind dog, because when communicating with these animals, the child experiences similar feelings that cannot occur when communicating with a person.
Self-preparation of parents.
The parent’s readiness for the dolphin assisted therapy course is also very important.
It is foolish to assume that father or mother will give their child into the hands of a stranger without any doubt and will not worry at all about what is happening to him there.
It is normal when parents try to learn in advance as much as possible about the procedure and about the specialists providing it. And the reaction to the crying of their child is laid in such layers of the subconscious, to which even the most experienced psychologist will not immediately get.
A little later we will talk about the behavior of parents during the session and about establishing feedback with a psychologist dolphin therapist. Now I need to say a few words about how the psycho-emotional state of parents affects the child.
The child’s relationship with parents is unique in nature and much stronger than any other social connections. The parent sees in the child a continuation of himself, and the child identifies the parent with comfort, warmth, satiety and safety. The parent is an indispensable support for the child, on which his entire universe stands. It is not surprising that at the moments when this support is “staggering”, a local “end of the world” sets in for the child.
One of the tasks of the parent, as the educator, is to expand the child’s comfort zone, expand and strengthen the foundation on which his world is built. During procedures such as dolphin assisted therapy, the changes in the child’s perception of the world become especially noticeable when the parent is not nearby, and the child learns to look for other points of support in relation to the world. To facilitate this process you can, for example, try to hold the child in your arms less, and, if possible, put him next to you: at home, at a party, in public places and transport, gradually pushing him farther and still being close by. The child should feel that you are always nearby, while feeling himself as independent as possible.
The next point of self-preparation for therapy will be working on your own fears.
The perception of a new thing for a child is often based on how exactly this “new” is perceived by his mom or dad. When parents demonstrate fear, discontent, irritation, and in general any strong emotion, the child is involuntarily involved in the process of emotional response, reflecting, like a mirror, this emotion back to the “big world”. Therefore, it is not surprising that if parents are afraid or do not know how to swim, it is more difficult for a child to adapt in the water, and when they are afraid of dolphins or disdain for them, it is more difficult to get used to these animals. If parents show strong positive feelings, then the child, “infected” by them, works wonders of fearlessness.
Therefore, before coming to a dolphin assisted therapy course, it will not be superfluous to work, on our own or with outside help, on our own fears. Perhaps you will learn to swim or overcome some psychological barriers, and maybe discover in yourself the same craving for dolphins that we hope your child will discover in himself.