A teenaged boy was brought to us who had experienced a horrific childhood full of abuse and neglect. He had adopted some bizarre behaviors as a result which distanced him from his peers and provoked a lot of bullying and chiding. Almost everything he did begged to be made fun of. It was heart wrenching to watch him struggle to get along with children at the shelter and at school. But how to address so many behaviors without totally crushing him?
With a horse named Buddy. Buddy is probably the best therapist I ever met. He is sensitive and patient beyond belief so he came straight up to the boy and loved all over him. The boy was elated, the horse liked him! (Most abused children take the blame for their own abuse, assuming there is something wrong with them which provokes or deserves the abuse. So their first fear is always that they will not be liked.) So Buddy's ready acceptance of the boy was healing. But, as the boy started acting out his behaviors Buddy would gently pull away. He didn't leave, he just moved away from the inappropriate touching or the explosive noises. The boy got it immediately. "He doesn't like that!" Not a word was spoken, but volumes were communicated. As his other therapist, I could then gently ask, "how do other people respond when you do that?" And the boy could tell me without feeling badly about himself because Buddy was right there nuzzling him and liking him. With Buddy's positive reinforcement we moved through his disruptive behaviors in no time replacing things Buddy did not like with behaviors Buddy did like.
And what Buddy liked, the other kids did too!